DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, another milestone in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. NPR has confirmed that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, sat for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller last week. Let's talk about this with NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, who's here. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So what exactly are you learning?
JOHNSON: Well, two Justice Department officials confirmed to me this morning that Attorney General Sessions did, in fact, sit for a voluntary interview last week with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. That was first reported by The New York Times, and, David, it seems to be the first publicly known interview with a Trump cabinet official. Remember, Mueller's investigating Russian interference in the presidential election, contacts with the Trump campaign, and allegations of obstruction of justice in the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Jeff Sessions is in a position to know something about all of that.
GREENE: OK. So we know what Sessions might know, the question is how helpful he may have been in advancing Mueller's investigation, right? Do we have a sense for that?
JOHNSON: Right now these lips are zipped. The Justice Department is not characterizing what Sessions said in the interview and Special Counsel Mueller is declining to comment on the ongoing investigation. David, Mueller has shown he can keep a secret. Remember, he reached a plea deal with foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos last year that came as a surprise even to Trump officials. It's not clear what, exactly, these investigators have up their sleeves.
GREENE: Can we just take a step back for a moment? I feel like you can lose sight of the broader picture here when a story, you know, moves along as this one has. This is the attorney general of the United States as a witness in an ongoing investigation. This is no small thing.
JOHNSON: No small thing. Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation last March because he was so involved in the Trump campaign, but we also know Sessions met with the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, at least twice during the campaign. And even though he was recused, Sessions did play a role in advising President Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey last year. Democrats wonder if that was an attempt to obstruct justice, to throw a wrench in these investigations. Now, Sessions has said that Trump was right to fire Comey, but that's a matter of interest to investigators at the FBI and on Capitol Hill.
GREENE: OK. Carrie, I know there are a lot of unknowns here, but this investigation by Robert Mueller now - what? - eight months old or so, I mean, any thought about what this Sessions interview could tell us about where Mueller is trying to go here?
JOHNSON: To regular people, this calendar may seem slow, but in the context of an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department and the FBI, David, it's actually really fast.
GREENE: This is no time (laughter).
JOHNSON: Really fast - remember, Robert Mueller has already charged Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his deputy Rick Gates. Mueller has already reached please with George Papadopoulos, that foreign policy aide, and also Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and former White House strategist Steve Bannon recently got a grand jury subpoena. Now, it looks like Bannon has agreed to do a voluntary interview, like Sessions did, instead of a forced one, but the Mueller team is now nearing the president's inner circle here and lawyers involved in this matter think, before it's all over, the president himself, Donald Trump, is going to have to sit for an interview with the special counsel Robert Mueller and some FBI agents, no information yet on when that may take place though.
GREENE: And when an investigation takes place in secret like this, we have no idea about whether it could be weeks, months, years, who knows? I mean, there could be news at any moment.
JOHNSON: The White House keeps saying it's going to be over soon, but the White House has no control over that, only Robert Mueller and the Justice Department do.
GREENE: OK. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reporting this morning. Carrie, thanks.
JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.