ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
President Trump has been calling the Russia investigation a witch hunt, and he spent the holiday season attacking the FBI as tainted and in tatters. Republican lawmakers are piling on. Here's Florida Congressman Francis Rooney on MSNBC this week.
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FRANCIS ROONEY: I'm very concerned that the DOJ and the FBI - whether you want to call it deep state or what - are kind of off the rails.
SIEGEL: With us to talk more about this controversy is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hiya.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: Appears to be a strategy among those close to President Trump to attack the investigators who are conducting the Russia probe. What's the latest?
JOHNSON: Well, the president appears to be mostly silent today about this on social media, but he spent a lot of time this Christmas season blasting the FBI and the Justice Department. He's targeting the FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and others who are high up in the bureaucracy there. On its face, Trump's attacking McCabe is biased because his wife ran for office as a Democrat.
He's attacking others at the FBI for going soft on Hillary Clinton scandals and for creating some of their own. Recall this month the disclosure FBI agent Peter Strzok had sent text that Trump is an idiot and Clinton should have won the election. He played a role in the Russia investigation until this summer.
SIEGEL: We should say this isn't the first time that people have criticized the FBI, but how unusual is it for the top federal law enforcement agency to be under fire from the White House?
JOHNSON: Well, the FBI's known controversy from its earliest days. We're still fighting in some quarters over its longest serving director, J. Edgar Hoover, and his actions, like wiretapping and threatening Martin Luther King Jr.
More recently, Robert, FBI Director Louis Freeh was in his own form of Cold War with President Bill Clinton for most of the '90s. And Clinton was disgusted with the FBI investigations of him and his administration.
For his part, Louis Freeh says he distrusted the president and said Clinton's closet was full of skeletons. Now they only spoke about six times in eight years. That was not a good relationship.
SIEGEL: Not a good relationship. The current FBI director is the one President Trump appointed this year. He's defended the agency. What's going on behind the scenes?
JOHNSON: Well, there's an online campaign to support the FBI, to praise agents for their good work in investigating crime and terrorism and donations to the fund for families of agents who have died in service. In fact, the FBI Agents Association tells me today they've collected nearly $200,000 this month, a record. Today alone, $50,000 in donations came in before lunchtime.
Now, some of that money came in from supporters of fired FBI director Jim Comey fired by President Trump this year. Others came from people like former CIA Director John Brennan, who praised the agency and its agents.
SIEGEL: Carrie, what do you think? Do you think that the war of words over the FBI and the special counsel - whether all of this is having any impact on the investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign?
JOHNSON: Well, special counsel Robert Muller, himself a former FBI director for 12 years, has not really waded in here. He's letting his actions do the talking. The White House says its interviews with the special counsel have mostly wrapped up, but lawyers involved in the investigation say there's no chance this is ending soon.
There's been some back and forth recently, Robert, about Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Flynn's brother apparently tweeted Flynn could use a pardon for the holidays. Then the brother deleted that tweet. No comment from Flynn's lawyers about the pardon, and they've signaled he's cooperating with this investigation moving forward.
SIEGEL: OK. NPR's Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks.
JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.