ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Tonight we have some breaking news about the investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Washington Post reports that the special counsel Robert Mueller is now looking into whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice. Devlin Barrett is one of The Post reporters on the story and joins us now. Welcome to the program.
DEVLIN BARRETT: Hi. Thank you.
SHAPIRO: Your article calls this a major turning point in the investigation. How so?
BARRETT: Well, as you may remember last week from former FBI Director Comey's testimony, President Trump had been told for months and months that he was not under investigation. And for months and months, that was true until shortly after the president fired Jim Comey. And that's when, we're told, an investigation began into whether the president may have attempted to obstruct justice.
SHAPIRO: Is it your understanding that the dismissal of FBI Director Comey could have been what triggered this expansion of the investigation into possible obstruction of justice?
BARRETT: That's right. It's a central moment in - that's being looked at as well as - but it's not the only thing. It's sort of a key act in this process of the investigation. But it - they're also looking at obviously all of the conversations that apparently occurred between the president and the FBI director leading up to that. And part of what our story is about is explaining that it's not just a he-said, he-said type of investigation. They're also looking at the accounts that any other government officials, especially senior intelligence officials, can provide about their own conversations with Trump or possibly Comey on these issues.
SHAPIRO: And so the question would be, was the dismissal of Comey intended to obstruct the investigation into possible collusion or Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign?
BARRETT: Right. And if you think back to Comey's testimony, he says pretty clearly that he believes his firing was an attempt to change the course of the Russia investigation. So he sort of says it but ultimately backs off and says, look; ultimately it is the special counsel Mueller's decision to make about whether any laws were broken in this. And we're told the special counsel is looking at that.
SHAPIRO: You also report that investigators are looking into whether financial crimes might have been committed by Trump associates. How could that be connected to Russian attempts to influence the election?
BARRETT: It's probably a lesser understood part of this set of investigations that as they look at various people who were associates of the president both as president and when he was a candidate, they have also been looking at the finances of those folks. And we know that there are subpoenas that have gone out that have requested financial records related to some of those associates. And so oftentimes what happens, frankly, in counterintelligence investigations is you start looking at sort of a core intelligence question. What did the Russians do with - and did they do it with any Americans? And it grows into, what did any of those Americans do in their financial matters that may also raise alarms with the FBI?
SHAPIRO: What has the response been from the president and his team?
BARRETT: We got a statement this evening from a spokesman for the president's personal lawyer which basically accused the FBI of leaking and didn't frankly say much else. If - you might remember after Comey's testimony, the President said that he felt vindicated by Comey's statements. And I think, frankly, our story shows that the president is by no means out of the woods as far as the investigation goes.
SHAPIRO: Just briefly, if the special counsel concludes the president did obstruct justice, could charges be brought against him?
BARRETT: Well, it's longstanding Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted by a grand jury. So their findings - whatever findings Mueller might come up with would go to Congress, and then Congress would have to make decisions about whether to pursue impeachment. But you know, the president is not by any stretch an ordinary suspect or an ordinary defendant in legal terms.
SHAPIRO: Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post, thanks very much.
BARRETT: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.