Philip Ewing

Philip Ewing is NPR's national security editor. He helps direct coverage of the military, the intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and other topics for the radio and online. Ewing joined the network in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously he served as managing editor of Military.com and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.

Updated at 9:31 a.m. ET

The latest political sandstorm in the Russia saga is over four pages of paper that have never seen the light of day. Here's what you need to know to make sense of what's going on with this story.

1. What exactly is this memo that everyone is talking about?

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This week in the Russia investigations: Trump wanted to fire Mueller — does that matter? Parsing the tea leaves of the palace intrigue. And is this the end of the FBI memo meshugas?

Whoa

President Trump reportedly tried to fire Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller last year, not long after firing FBI Director James Comey. But White House counsel Don McGahn wouldn't go along, so the president backed off.

Updated at 10:31 a.m. ET

So President Trump sought to fire Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller last year — but the White House's top lawyer wouldn't go along. Does that mean Mueller is safe?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The news about Trump's desire to get rid of Mueller only weeks after the president dismissed FBI Director James Comey — but his unwillingness to press the matter — could mean Trump and his advisers feel it's too dangerous to attempt the same play twice.

Updated at 12:04 p.m. ET

Attorneys for President Trump are emphasizing how much they've cooperated with investigators as negotiations continue over how and when he might talk with Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

Lawyers for the president on Thursday released a list that they said detailed the information and access the White House and Trump campaign have given to Mueller's Russia probe and congressional inquiries.

Last week in the Russia investigations: Will "infiltration" be the new "collusion" or "obstruction?" Another skirmish over executive privilege? Is the Russia imbroglio about the money-go-round? And will the shutdown disrupt Mueller's investigation?

The inside game

How much did Russia "infiltrate" political organizations inside the United States as part of its attack on the 2016 presidential election?

This week in the Russia investigations: President Trump rows back on a potential Robert Mueller interview, Sen. Dianne Feinstein releases a big transcript, and Steve Bannon is headed to the House Intelligence Committee.

The exile

Once upon a time, Steve Bannon was among the princes of the universe. Loved by his allies and hated by his foes, he was, most importantly, feared by both.

The infamous Russia dossier was not the sole basis for the FBI's investigation into Donald Trump's ties to Russia, according to a newly public document that notched a tactical win for Democrats inside Washington, D.C.

This week in the Russia investigations: Big problems for Sessions, Bannon cut adrift and Republicans search for more weapons to fire.

Living on the edge

A lighthouse can stand safely on a barrier island one morning and then when a big storm blows through, be teetering at land's end by the next.

Following the heavy cyclone of news this week, dawn in Washington, D.C., on Saturday found Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the slippery sand — and that could also mean peril for Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

If 2016 was the bravura opener and 2017 the tension-building second act, 2018 could deliver an action-packed conclusion to the Russia imbroglio.

Or this story might still be getting started.

Even without knowing every surprise the saga might bring in the new year, there are already enough waypoints on the calendar to confirm that 2018 will ratchet up the volume yet again.

Here are four big storylines to watch.

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