SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
We're going to start the program today with a bombshell article from The New York Times. The paper says after President Trump fired James Comey from his post as FBI director in 2017, the agency opened a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump might have been acting on Russia's behalf against the United States. On Twitter, Trump attacked former leaders of the FBI and the newspaper. The president has repeatedly denied any involvement with Russia on the part of his 2016 campaign. The New York Times' Adam Goldman has the lead byline on the story and joins us now.
ADAM GOLDMAN: Hey. Thanks for having me.
MCCAMMON: Thanks for being here. What have your sources told you about how this FBI investigation into whether President Trump might have been acting on behalf of Russia came about?
GOLDMAN: Well, the way it's been explained to me is that in 2016, Trump had made a - you know, a number of statements, you know, asking Russia to give - you know, provide - make public Hillary Clinton emails that had been deleted. And there were another series of events - you know, Trump's meeting with former director James Comey and asking him to end the Flynn investigation. And so this reaches a crescendo with the firing of Mr. Comey on May 9, 2017. And in the letter that the president drafts, you know, he talks about the Russia investigation. And then, the very next day, he does an interview on NBC News with anchor Lester Holt and tells the American public and the FBI, I did it because of Russia.
And that was the tipping point for the FBI. And then, shortly thereafter, they opened an investigation into the president. And the investigation had two elements - a criminal element, which was the actual obstruction, right, and whether the president was obstructing a national security investigation. And then there was a counterintelligence element, and that involved whether the president himself had witting or unwittingly, you know, worked on behalf of Russia.
MCCAMMON: Right. And if your sources are correct, how unusual would it be for a sitting president to be investigated by the FBI as a possible foreign agent?
GOLDMAN: I guess unprecedented.
MCCAMMON: And how was the focus of this investigation different from that of special counsel Robert Mueller's continuing probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia?
GOLDMAN: Well, I - it's my understanding that special counsel Bob Mueller - he inherited this FBI investigation and would be looking at both elements of it, right? We know the obstruction and the counterintelligence aspect of it.
MCCAMMON: Do we know anything about what the investigation turned up and whether or not it's continuing?
GOLDMAN: Well, we know he continues to investigate obstruction. We do not know if the CI component has run its course.
MCCAMMON: The element focused specifically on the president.
MCCAMMON: And, finally, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has called this story absurd and said in a statement that Comey was fired, quote, because he's a disgraced partisan hack. What is the president's legal team saying about this?
GOLDMAN: They - I mean, they were downplaying it. But it shouldn't be any news to them that the - you know, the FBI might have opened this investigation. I think the American public - if you were to ask somebody on the street, what is Bob Mueller doing, I think that expectation of the American public is, well, he's trying to figure out if President Trump colluded with the Russians, right? Isn't that sort of what this is all about, this particular investigation? It's not just whether Comey obstructed - sorry, President Trump obstructed the Russia investigation when he fired Mr. Comey.
MCCAMMON: Right. We have to leave it there. That's Adam Goldman of The New York Times.
Thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.