MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Investigate the investigators - the phrase that started as a rallying cry for President Trump and his supporters became reality when a U.S. attorney from Connecticut was drafted to look at U.S. intelligence work surrounding the 2016 election. This is an investigation in which Attorney General Bill Barr has reportedly taken an intense personal interest. According to The Washington Post, Barr has reached out to intelligence officials in Italy and the United Kingdom. And President Trump on that now famous phone call asked the Ukrainian president to help. So is this the way things are supposed to happen? Mary McCord is here to help us answer that question. She was the acting assistant attorney general for national security in the Obama administration. She now teaches law at Georgetown University. And she joins me now.
MARY MCCORD: Thank you. Happy to be here.
KELLY: So I'm going to start with the big question, and then we'll try to break it down a little bit. The big question is this - is it typical for an attorney general to be this hands-on involved in an investigation?
MCCORD: I would say it's atypical for the attorney general to be involved in sort of the minute details of any investigation. Obviously, that's a big - they have a big job. It's - they're the, you know, the head of the department that is involved in many, many investigations over a whole variety of issues. So it is unusual. But this is an investigation, of course, that Barr himself announced and one that he obviously has felt strongly about. So I'm not particularly surprised in this case that he is maintaining a more of a day-to-day involvement than would ordinarily be the case.
KELLY: And what about the flying around meeting with foreign leaders? He was spotted in Rome last week. We mentioned he's also been involved in the U.K. How unusual is that?
MCCORD: Well, again, I mean, the attorney general - that is a position where you do travel. You do meet with foreign leaders. But it would not normally be to talk about specific cases. But there are exceptions to that. If we are looking for cooperation in specific cases, normally those are things that would go through the Department of Justice, through legal attaches that the department has in foreign countries, maybe using mutual legal assistance treaties, for example, to assist in law enforcement criminal investigations. But this is one that the attorney general has said was not a criminal investigation. And so that might not be, you know, the way that the kind of requests would be made not through the normal means. So it is unusual, but, then again, the whole thing is kind of unusual because there aren't that many of these types of investigations that we see attorneys general publicly announce and then be involved in.
KELLY: Right. Now, you've used the word unusual a few times. Is it worrying in any way? I mean, I'm just wondering this is front-page news right now, the attorney general's hands-on involvement. Is there anything about this situation that sets out alarm bells for you? Or is it, as you've said, you know, an unusual inquiry so maybe playing a slightly unusual role isn't out of line?
MCCORD: So I think if we, you know, zoom out and look at it sort of objectively and not in the context of this particular investigation, I can imagine a scenario where the attorney general is involved in really an intelligence investigation and therefore would have these kind of interactions. What's unusual here or what makes it troubling, I guess, here is because this investigation also happens to have - be for the - the appearance of being for the personal benefit of the president. It seems like that was what drove it to begin with. It certainly seems like that may be what is driving it now. And that's what I think is causing alarm bells and red flags.
KELLY: Mary McCord, thank you.
MCCORD: Thank you.
KELLY: She was acting assistant attorney general for national security under President Obama, now at Georgetown University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.