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Where The Investigation Into 2 Associates Of Trump's Personal Lawyer Goes Next

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

While Congress investigates the Trump administration's actions in Ukraine, prosecutors in New York are investigating a case that overlaps with the impeachment inquiry. Two men who worked with President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pleaded not guilty yesterday to campaign finance charges. One of the defendants, Lev Parnas, spoke outside of the courthouse after the arraignment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEV PARNAS: I look forward to defending myself vigorously in court. And I'm certain that, in the time, truth will be revealed, and I will be vindicated.

SHAPIRO: As prosecutors continue their investigation, we're going to talk now with someone who used to work in that office about where the trail may lead and what its implications could be for impeachment. Danya Perry is a former federal prosecutor in the southern district of New York.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DANYA PERRY: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: These cases often begin with small fish and kind of work their way up to the big fish. Is that how you see this particular investigation going?

PERRY: I do. You're right; that is the playbook. That is typically how cases are developed. In this case, it seems that the first arrests were somewhat accelerated, a bit precipitous.

SHAPIRO: Because they were leaving the country with one-way tickets?

PERRY: Correct. And so clearly, the call was to accelerate the arrests and to pick up these two at Dulles Airport.

SHAPIRO: So the obvious question then is who are the big fish?

PERRY: I think the obvious answer is Rudy Giuliani is amongst them. The defendant's own lawyers have drawn connections not just to Mr. Giuliani but all the way up to the White House and to the president himself.

SHAPIRO: Giuliani says he's not worried; he hasn't been approached by prosecutors. Do you take that as any kind of a guarantee?

PERRY: I take it just the opposite. I think that is why he should be worried. Typically, in an investigation like this, the prosecutors are going to leave no stone unturned, and they're going to develop every piece of evidence that they can before making an arrest. In this case, there have been reports - and it also stands to reason and it is the playbook - that the prosecutors have been interviewing witnesses for months and reports that witnesses have been asked about Mr. Giuliani for months.

Mr. Giuliani - the fact that, by his own admission, has not been approached by the southern district of New York prosecutors or by the FBI, I think we can draw from that that he is not a witness; he is seen as a subject and a target of this investigation.

SHAPIRO: Do you think the not guilty plea that we heard yesterday is the final word or are prosecutors still trying to get these two guys to cooperate?

PERRY: That's not the final word; that is the first word. They are very much in the initial throes of this investigation. Clearly, the prosecutors are going to be interested in flipping witnesses, but it is not at all surprising that in the first instance at their arraignment they're pleading not guilty. If they're interested in cooperation, they will be reaching out through their lawyers, and they will be beginning proffer sessions. And if their information proves to be reliable and credible and valuable to the government, then they will continue along those lines, and eventually, they will plead guilty to a cooperation agreement.

SHAPIRO: U.S. attorneys are, of course, part of the Justice Department, and the man who leads the Justice Department, Attorney General Bill Barr, has become a key defender of President Trump. This administration has shown itself to be very willing to bulldoze traditional lines between politics and law enforcement. Do you think there's any chance of political interference in this case?

PERRY: Look - I would be shocked, but I think we've all been shocked before. There have been reports - and it would be within the playbook - that the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District briefed Attorney General Barr on this matter some time ago. And as we've seen, these arrests were made, and there is no apparent interference as far as anyone can tell.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. There have been so many unexpected twists in this story. It's impossible to know where it's going next. But I'm going to ask you anyway - where do you think it's going next?

PERRY: Well, I can just stick to where I think the southern district case will go. The prosecutors are going to be very busy developing the evidence further, building that out and seeing where else they can go with it, seeing if they can flip the witnesses. If they can't flip the witnesses, they are going to be going to trial. So I don't think that this case will be affected by the timeline of the congressional inquiries or by the presidential election or by anything else that's outside the judicial bubble in which it's existing.

SHAPIRO: Danya Perry, thanks for speaking with us today.

PERRY: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: She is a former federal prosecutor for the southern district of New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.