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It's A Big Week For Trump's Tax Overhaul, But Russia Looms


This is a key week in President Trump's effort to keep his promise to lower taxes and overhaul the tax code. On Wednesday, House Republicans will unveil their tax bill. But there's something else that could overshadow any momentum on taxes this week, namely those investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now on the line to talk about all this. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Over the weekend - late last week, rather - CNN and other news organizations reported that special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the Russia matter, secured his first charges through a federal grand jury. So just explain for us, Tamara - this morning, what do we know?

KEITH: Well first, we have to say that NPR has not confirmed what CNN and others are reporting. But in terms of their reporting, there's not a lot of specificity. The grand jury reportedly has approved charges. But we don't know what those charges are or who might be charged, whether it's one person or multiple people. It's also important to remember that while Robert Mueller, the special counsel, was appointed to investigate potential collusion between Russia and Trump associates, he was also authorized to investigate other matters that could arise during the course of the inquiry. So that could be things like money laundering. We've also heard a lot of questions about work done by people in the Trump orbit on behalf of foreign clients. So it's possible that if there are charges that come down today or this week, they may have nothing to do with the campaign or with Russia.

MARTIN: So nothing to do with Russia - potentially nothing to do with anyone in the White House, even.

KEITH: We just don't know yet.

MARTIN: That said, I imagine the administration - the White House - is still trying to keep the focus elsewhere. What has the president been saying?

KEITH: Well, all last week, the White House and the president were trying to keep the focus elsewhere. Then over the weekend, President Trump was on quite the tweet storm, talking about Hillary Clinton's 33,000 missing emails, talking about Comey, saying that Trump-Russia collusion doesn't exist, that Dems are using this terrible and bad for our country witch hunt for evil politics.

MARTIN: So the same thing he's been saying for months and months (laughter).

KEITH: Yeah, more or less (laughter). And a lawyer at the White House who is tasked with dealing with the investigation, Ty Cobb, told me in a statement, quote, "Contrary to what many have suggested, the president's comments today are unrelated to the activities of the special counsel with whom he continues to cooperate." In other words, don't look at the tweets.

MARTIN: Right. So this was already going to be a big week for the president when it comes to his legislative agenda, right? Remind us what's on tap.

KEITH: Yeah, absolutely. I was trying to jot it all down on a note card. Republicans in Congress are supposed to introduce legislative details on the tax system overhaul. There are three hearings this week on the role of social media in the Russian attack on the 2016 election. The president is supposed to announce his new chair for the Federal Reserve. The president's opioid commission releases its final report. And then on Friday, President Trump begins his trip to Asia, a long trip that has major geopolitical consequences.

MARTIN: Right. So a long list of items. But chief among them is really the tax bill, which we've been hearing about for weeks and weeks on end. But we haven't actually seen a bill. That's going to happen this week?

KEITH: Yeah. That's supposed to come out on Wednesday. So we've had sort of the broad outlines, the top-line things like wanting to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, reducing taxes on smaller businesses to about 25 percent - also changing and simplifying and reducing tax rates for individuals, as well. But we haven't had the details about how that would be paid for, what popular tax loopholes or deductions would go away to pay for it.

MARTIN: And paying for it's a big deal. I mean, that's what has garnered so much criticism from some Republicans.

KEITH: Right. And every single one of these deductions has a constituency. And now when the legislative language comes out, those constituencies are going to jump into action. And it's going to get interesting.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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