MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In Greg Miller's forthcoming book about Russia and President Trump, he writes about a conversation in 2016 between the president and then-FBI director James Comey. The two are furious about a particular news story and trying to figure out who leaked it. Trump talks about putting reporters in jail. Comey talks about the value of putting a reporter's head on a pike to send a message. Greg Miller read about that exchange months later and realized the reporter in question was him.
GREG MILLER: That was an out-of-body experience, I have to say.
KELLY: Miller's book is titled "The Apprentice." He stopped by our studios to talk about it, including that moment of reading about himself in Comey's memos memorializing conversations with the president.
MILLER: They're talking about stories that I had written about Trump's conversations with the Australian prime minister and the Mexican president, among others. And they're having a conversation in the Oval Office about trying to find sources that had provided me with that information and about putting reporters in jail. And it was chilling.
KELLY: I want to put to you a question I have put to you before on air. I was interviewing you last year when you were breaking Russia stories left, right and center. And I asked you to step back and consider, what if there's no there there? What if this is all smoke and no fire? Having now written 431 pages on this story, where do you land on that now?
MILLER: What was my answer last year? I can't remember.
MILLER: I think that...
KELLY: Last year you told me - and I'm going to quote you - it's conceivable that you could get to the end of all this, and we may still never uncover evidence of collusion or collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russia.
MILLER: I would modify that a bit. I think it's still possible we don't ever see a smoking gun, a memo between Vladimir Putin and President Trump outlining their cooperation and collusion on the campaign in 2016. But I think that we've learned so much and are poised to learn so much more from Bob Mueller and his investigation that makes it clear that there are so many intricate parts of the relationship here involving Russia, and the Trump campaign, and figures around Trump campaign before he's elected and after he's elected.
I think the closer you look at Trump's financial empire, the more problematic it looks, the more it looks like a lot of high-end properties. Their prices are propped up by money from undisclosed sources, and those are troubling transactions. There's a lot of smoke there in all fronts.
KELLY: You argue in the book that two men have seemed to loom over the Trump presidency more than any other, and you argue that they are Vladimir Putin and Bob Mueller, the special counsel. And you remark on the irony in your view that President Trump appears to view the ex-KGB chief as an ally and the ex-director of the FBI as an adversary.
MILLER: He treats them that way. Right? I mean, he - his relationship with Putin is inexplicable and baffling. But it is one of constant-seeming subservience and admiration. And with everybody else trying to get to the bottom of this Russia story, it's out-and-out hostility. And that is, you know, in many ways, straight out of Vladimir Putin's playbook.
KELLY: You also note that both these men - Mueller, Putin - sought a meeting with President Trump this year. One of them got it, and that would be Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki summit.
MILLER: That's right. And Trump pursued that meeting from the minute he got into office, and even before he got into office.
KELLY: I mean, you - I ran into you in Helsinki.
MILLER: That's right.
KELLY: We - at - right at the presidential palace at the end of that extraordinary press conference. And you were madly typing on your laptop, trying to meet your deadline, as was I. What was your takeaway?
MILLER: My takeaway was that was one of the most bizarre spectacles that I think we will ever see involving an American president on the world stage. And the tension in that room was palpable - I think you would probably agree - from the outset. We all knew the potential for something to really go off the rails there. I remember thinking initially for a couple minutes it seemed like it was all on track, and things were going OK. He was sort of following the script. But it just seemed like that couldn't possibly hold, and it was inevitable that there would be a blow-up. And it didn't take long. It took one question.
KELLY: You argue that the Helsinki summit represents what you call the end of Act Two of this Russia story. First off, what was Act One?
MILLER: Act One was the election. It was the interference. It's Russia's involvement and its efforts to try to propel Trump to the White House.
KELLY: OK. So Act Two would be then all of the investigations and everything that has unfolded...
MILLER: The launching of the investigations, the first two years of the Trump presidency - we're coming up on that - and all of the intrigue surrounding Russia and these investigations.
KELLY: So what's Act Three?
MILLER: Act Three is Mueller's final act, I think. And it's Congress' act. And, you know, that obviously is up in the air. We've learned a lot about what Mueller has, but we still only have a glimpse into a part of what he's gathered as part of his investigation. And then we have this huge question about what happens to that material. Where does that go? Does that lead to impeachment hearings in the House? Does that - how much does that depend on the outcome of the election in just a few short weeks from now? There's so much to come in Act Three.
KELLY: Washington Post reporter Greg Miller. His new book is "The Apprentice: Trump, Russia And The Subversion Of American Democracy." Greg Miller, thank you.
MILLER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.