ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The special counsel investigation into Russian interference in last year's election is heating up. This week we learned that the FBI conducted an early morning raid at the home of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. Here's what the president had to say about it yesterday.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's pretty tough stuff.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President...
TRUMP: You wake him up. Perhaps his family was there. I think that's pretty tough stuff.
SHAPIRO: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is here to bring us up to speed on the investigation. Hey, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Is it pretty tough stuff?
JOHNSON: Well, I interviewed lots of lawyers and experts this week. They said using a search warrant in a white-collar corruption case is unusual, more typical in drug trafficking or terror investigations. In fact Whitewater independent counsel Ken Starr, who received so much criticism about overreach during the Bill Clinton years, never used search warrants. I checked with two members of his team. They told me they didn't do it. Neither did Patrick Fitzgerald. He investigated the leak of a CIA operative's identity in the George W. Bush era. So this is out of character.
SHAPIRO: If it's so unusual, do we know why the special counsel used one in this case?
JOHNSON: We don't know for certain. Robert Mueller doesn't talk about ongoing investigations. But the best clue may be the affidavit an FBI agent filed in court to support this search. The agent had to convince a judge there was probable cause, some crime had been committed. That search warrant is not public, at least not yet.
But sources close to the case are saying investigators wanted bank and tax records from Paul Manafort, the one-time chairman of the Trump campaign. And a Manafort spokesman says he's responding to government inquiries from the FBI and Congress. Legal experts are telling me Mueller would not have used a search warrant if there were no concerns about cooperation or destruction of evidence. In other words, there was some signal that evidence might have been gotten rid of.
SHAPIRO: So Paul Manafort is clearly one focus of the investigation, but he may not be the only focus. What is the endgame here?
JOHNSON: Well, in big, complicated investigations like this one, the FBI and prosecutors want to find documents, emails, contemporaneous records of whatever they're investigating. But they also need insiders to explain those documents - the conversations, the motivations. Think of it like climbing a ladder, veteran Washington defense lawyer Bill Jeffress told me. Start with the office assistants and the clerks. Move up to the vice presidents and see how far things go.
Now, some of this pressure may be designed to get Paul Manafort to consider turning into a government witness cooperating with the special counsel and see what he has to say about other people under investigation. Right now there's no public sign that's happened yet.
SHAPIRO: Based on the people you've talked to, would that be a pretty common tactic for a special counsel to take?
JOHNSON: Absolutely. You know, this 16-lawyer team that Bob Mueller has put together to investigate...
SHAPIRO: That's a large number.
JOHNSON: Yeah, a large number, but the experience is unbelievable. These are people who have prosecuted terrorists, mobsters and very, very high-level corporate executives. They're not afraid to use tough tactics.
Now, consider a guy named Andrew Weissmann. He once led the Enron task force which prosecuted executives at that defunct energy company. At one point, they wanted the cooperation of the chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow. They threatened to indict Fastow's wife if he didn't cooperate with them. Fastow didn't blink. And so both the husband and the wife were prosecuted and did prison time.
SHAPIRO: So that's the team that these folks are up against.
JOHNSON: Not just Enron. Think about another more recent addition to this team, Greg Andres, a longtime prosecutor from Brooklyn, took down the Bonanno crime family boss. He put together a trial team and presented witnesses for weeks on end. He secured the cooperation of the crime family boss's brother-in-law who went on to testify against the crime family boss in court. And Greg Andres so got under the skin of these mobsters that one of them testified they wanted to take out a hit on him.
SHAPIRO: Wow. So this sounds like an all-star legal team. Do we know where they're going next?
JOHNSON: Well, we don't know for sure. They're going to be sifting through lots of documents, talking with witnesses. And then, Ari, we know there are now two grand juries looking at elements of this investigation - one in suburban Virginia, another in D.C. According to grand jury rules, prosecutors and FBI agents are not supposed to be talking about what's going on in those grand juries, but the witnesses sure can. So some of the information we're likely to see in the coming weeks may come from that.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks, Carrie.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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