STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One of his lawyers now says President Trump did not really say what he seemed to say on Twitter. John Dowd contends that he was the author of a tweet about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Dowd adds he didn't word it very well. It's awkward because the tweet arguably implicated the president of the United States in a crime. Preet Bharara is the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York until he was dismissed by President Trump. He's on the line. Good morning, sir.
PREET BHARARA: Good morning.
INSKEEP: So let's just remember the basics here. It was after the charging of Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI. Trump's Twitter account says, quote, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI." Why's that matter?
BHARARA: Well, it matters because it's a change from what the reasoning was that was given by the president in the first place. You know, a few days after he became the national security adviser, the president said only that he fired Michael Flynn because he had lied to the vice president. And now you have the interjection of a new reason, apparently, which was that he knew - the president knew that there was a lie to the FBI, which then suggests that if he did that and knew that before he asked Jim Comey...
INSKEEP: ...The FBI director.
BHARARA: ...To back off on - the FBI director - to back off the investigation, that shows the level of knowledge and intent that was presently - you know, previously unknown.
INSKEEP: Oh, and the key thing here is lying in general is not a crime, but lying to the FBI in an investigation is very specifically a crime. So the president is saying, I knew Mike Flynn committed a crime and then tried to get the prosecutors to go easy on him.
BHARARA: That's the theory. And now as you point out, his lawyer - one of his lawyers, John Dowd, says, well, no it wasn't the president. It was me - in an apparent attempt to try to mitigate the damage to the president.
INSKEEP: Is obstruction of justice then the crime that you would throw at the president's feet or lay at the president's feet?
BHARARA: Well, I'm not prepared to lay anything directly at the president's feet just yet. But it's clearly one of the things that's being looked at by Special Counsel Mueller and his team. And it certainly doesn't help the president and his folks in connection with the potential obstruction accusation.
INSKEEP: So John Dowd has made a number of statements since taking responsibility for this tweet that he says was sloppily worded. And one of them gets to this question of obstruction of justice by the president. John Dowd talking to Mike Allen of Axios says over the weekend, quote, "the president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under the Constitution and has every right to express his view of any case." Do you think that is correct that you really can't make this case at all because it's the president of the United States?
BHARARA: Look. He's the president's defense lawyer. And he has to say things in the press and in the media that defend the president. I have a lot of experience with John Dowd. He represented some high-profile people in cases before my office. And he said then as he's saying now a lot of incorrect, mistaken and, on occasion, ludicrous things. So I don't put a lot of stock in it.
INSKEEP: Meaning you think that the president can be charged with obstruction of justice.
BHARARA: Yeah. I think it's a very high bar. It's a very high threshold. It's a difficult thing. It's never been done before. But the mere fact that the president is the president doesn't immunize him from an accusation of obstruction.
INSKEEP: When you read the news about Michael Flynn being charged with lying to the FBI, not being charged with other things that he potentially could have been and saying that he's now telling his story and cooperating with federal prosecutors, what does that tell you about the direction of the Robert Mueller investigation?
BHARARA: Well, you know, this is maybe a little bit unsatisfying. I don't think we know for sure. On the one hand, a lot of people are saying it means he must have a sweetheart deal. And he must have gotten sort of off lightly because he has a lot of other information. But I don't know that to be true. It's possible that this is all Bob Mueller has. It's also possible that there may be future charges to come down the pike. But in the ordinary course, if he was, in fact, guilty of more crimes then he's been charged with, that all would have been part of a guilty plea proceeding now as we speak. So I think we have to see.
INSKEEP: I actually appreciate you saying what you don't know. Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: But with that said, does it - do you see any indication that this investigation could be near its end, which apparently is a thing that the president has been saying to people around him?
BHARARA: No. I don't. And look. I think that this team is moving very quickly. But there's a lot still to happen. We have charges pending against Paul Manafort and another gentleman. And that's going to take a bit of time to finish, wrap up and get to a jury.
INSKEEP: Mr. Bharara, thank you very much - really appreciate it.
BHARARA: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's former United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.