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Bharara: Papadopoulos Plea 'Portends More Charges To Come'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now that special counsel Robert Mueller has made his first indictments in the Russia investigation, there are new questions about just how far that investigation could reach. Here to talk with us about the next steps is former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. He carried out many high-profile prosecutions before being dismissed from his post by President Trump. He now hosts a podcast called Stay Tuned With Preet.

Mr. Bharara, thanks for being with us.

PREET BHARARA, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: You tweeted yesterday that the guilty plea - specifically from the former adviser to Donald Trump, George Papadopoulos - that that guilty plea means more charges are likely to come down the pike. Why is that? Walk us through your logic there.

BHARARA: Yeah. So you know, the reason why prosecutors, whether you're in the special counsel's office or a U.S. Attorney's Office like I used to be in charge of, the reason you try to flip someone - get a cooperating witness - is to have that person in a position to provide substantial assistance, information, testimony about someone else and, typically, someone else, you know, higher up in the food chain. And so you don't go through the whole process; you don't go through the idea of promising lenience to somebody who has committed bad acts, like George Papadopoulos clearly has, unless you have in your mind the intention to do something further. So that's why I think that - you know, it doesn't always pan out. But the likelihood is that the special counsel team is looking for other heads as well.

MARTIN: Isn't he compromised now, though? So he would have been most valuable when knowledge of this was just under wraps.

BHARARA: Well, yeah. Well, that's actually a significant point. So as we know now from the paperwork that's been unsealed, George Papadopoulos was arrested in July, did not plead guilty until early October. And so we don't know what was going on during that several-week period. It may be that he was what people call a proactive cooperator, which means while, you know, you and I and the rest of the world had no idea that he had been cooperating, he may have been making tapes; he may have been making phone calls to other people incriminating them as well. So you know, that information and what it yielded is yet to be seen.

MARTIN: You have said people ought to watch President Trump and how he reacts to these charges - how he has reacted - because that could be used as evidence in the investigation in some way. How?

BHARARA: Well, you know - look - it's unclear if it will be or not. I was making the point that after prior significant events, like the president's own firing of Jim Comey, he has on his own talked about what was the state of mind that he had. So for example, after he fired Jim Comey and that pretextual memo was created by Rod Rosenstein and others to say that the reason Jim Comey was fired was because of his treatment of Hillary Clinton, we know that to really be not true because Donald Trump himself tweeted about it, tweeted about Russia and also went on NBC to talk to Lester Holt and essentially said to Lester hold on national television that when he fired Jim Comey what he had in his mind was the issues relating to the Russia investigation. And that is something that the special counsel can use in trying to determine what was in Donald Trump's head. I haven't seen anything of that nature so far yet, but you never know.

MARTIN: There is some concern on Capitol Hill, mainly from Democrats but also some Republicans, that the president may up his personal attacks on Robert Mueller to try to undermine the whole investigation, which he has called a witch hunt over and over again. Short of firing Robert Mueller, which would not look good for the administration, how could the president put pressure on him in the investigation?

BHARARA: Well, I think that's exactly it. I don't think Robert Mueller is faint of heart, and I don't think he is ever intimidated by anything. He's there to do his job, keep his head down. That's his reputation. That's why I think it was a good choice for him to be selected. So I'm not worried about, you know, intimidation through, you know, tweeting or anything like that. I am worried, like some members of Congress are, that he could be fired or dismissed. And I think that would create a constitutional crisis.

MARTIN: Could the president urge GOP members to cut funding to the investigation?

BHARARA: You know, there is some discussion of that. I think that also would cause something of a conflagration in the Congress and elsewhere. So one hopes that doesn't happen. But I think it's unfortunate that lots and lots of folks, including people on the GOP side like Newt Gingrich...

MARTIN: Yeah.

BHARARA: ...Were very in favor of Bob Mueller when he was appointed. And now that he's doing his job and getting something accomplished, they've changed their tune. I think that's unfortunate.

MARTIN: Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, thanks so much.

BHARARA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.