STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
So how does President Trump's demand to investigate the FBI look to agents from the FBI? Well, current agents aren't talking in public, but former agent Asha Rangappa is on the line. She now lectures at Yale.
Welcome back to the program.
ASHA RANGAPPA: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK. So President Trump - just to review here - demanded an investigation of the way the FBI investigated Russian interference in the presidential campaign and also demanded that classified information be shared with Congress about all of this. What's wrong with that?
RANGAPPA: Well, there are a few things that are concerning. Obviously, the Justice Department can refer any issues of misconduct to the inspector general, and they'll see if the FBI followed the rules. But the bigger issue here is that, in a counterintelligence investigation, which this was, in early summer 2016 - you know, when an FBI uses sources, they're using people who have, you know, access and - to people who are kind of working for foreign intelligence services. And oftentimes, that means that they may be already in circles that could either compromise them or put them in danger if they're discovered. And I think that's the concern of the Department of Justice here.
INSKEEP: I think you're saying that if information is shared with Congress and it gets out, as information tends to do, that someone could be killed. Is that what you're saying?
RANGAPPA: Yeah. And this is true for sources generally. Right? I mean, the FBI has to assure people who come and help them that they're going to be able to keep their identities confidential and protect them. Now, what the concern is from the president is that the FBI was using these sources illegally. And, you know, in my opinion, when the FBI uses these sources, there are a lot of internal guidelines on how they can be used and particularly if they touch in any way on First Amendment activity. So you know, journalists, political activity, clergy people - all of those get extra special protection when it comes to FBI investigation.
INSKEEP: Let's just ask a basic question here. The president has complained because, apparently, a college professor was consulted by the FBI who had contacts with various people connected to the Trump campaign. And all the while, the FBI's trying to investigate Russian interference in the election. Somebody might reasonably ask, why didn't the FBI just walk in the front door of the Trump campaign and say, we have this concern about Russian interference, what can you tell us?
RANGAPPA: Well (laughter), there's a few concerns, I think, that the FBI would have had in that. So what the FBI does is when they see that a foreign intelligence service is in contact with people, developing people, perhaps even has agents that are, you know, accessing sensitive information or people - in this case, a candidate for the president - what they're going to want to do is figure out what they're up to and to try to neutralize that activity. So here, the source being used to talk to suspected foreign agents - in this case, George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, people who had come on the radar of the FBI - to kind of assess what the threat was here. What were these people up to in the campaign?
If they had just stormed in the door and, you know, talked to these people overtly, what it would have done at that time in summer of 2016 is actually put a lot of attention that the FBI was investigating the campaign. It probably would have shut down the Russians' efforts, but I think it would have raised a lot of questions in the public eye, which the Department of Justice tries to avoid, usually...
RANGAPPA: ...In the months leading up to an election.
INSKEEP: Just got about 10 seconds left. Do the president's demands amount to an abuse of power in your view?
RANGAPPA: I think if it goes to the inspector general to look into, as opposed to him intervening directly, not necessarily. But if this is to force the Department of Justice's hand to do something immediately, I think it can amount to abuse of power, yes.
INSKEEP: Asha Rangappa of Yale, thanks very much.
RANGAPPA: Thank you. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.