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Clint Watts Explains What He Means By 'Follow The Trail Of Dead Russians'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

On this program yesterday, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden gave us a hint about how the Senate intelligence committee is investigating Russia's role in the U.S. presidential election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

RON WYDEN: There is a stack of documents - a voluminous stack of documents that points to various financial relationships between people who are close to the president, part of his world and the Russians. And for me, one of the key questions in doing an investigation is to always follow the money. In fact, Clint Watts, the former FBI man, came to our committee and said, Senator, you're right, you ought to follow the money, but you also ought to follow the trail of the dead bodies.

MARTIN: We are joined now by Clinton Watts, who offered up that advice to the committee back in March. He's a former FBI special agent, and he joins us on the line from New York. Mr. Watts, thanks for being here.

CLINTON WATTS: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: That's a provocative statement that you gave the committee. What did you mean when you advised senators to, quote, "follow the trail of dead Russians"?

WATTS: From the Russian context, if they were meddling in the U.S. election and it was through financial relationships, maybe inducements that they wanted to push, they would try to close those off. And if you look over the past year, really year and a half, you've seen a string of senior Russian officials that have died, some of them obviously of natural causes but some of them under suspicious circumstances.

And so when I would be looking at this, that's where I would focus is why are these people dying strangely? And which one of those might've had financial connections?

MARTIN: That's obviously the advice that you gave to the committee. Ron Wyden said he wants to work in that direction. Have you gotten any indications as to whether or not the investigations are headed in that direction?

WATTS: I haven't and I wouldn't. I'm not in direct contact with any of these investigations, but it does point to the seriousness of which I think the Senate committee in particular is taking this. They seem to much - be much more bipartisan. There's less politics involved in that investigation, so I think it's a hopeful sign.

MARTIN: I'm going to pivot slightly because as a former FBI special agent, you have a view and a history with the agency. You understand the leadership structure there. And there are all kinds of questions now about whether or not the Russia investigation can move forward as it has been.

Now that Director Comey is out, what's your take on that? Can an investigation of this scope carry on amidst such a dramatic change in the leadership?

WATTS: I think it will. The FBI agents that are doing this on a day-to-day basis leading the investigation, they're not going to change what they're doing. They're going to keep pushing forward. But the one question we should all be asking is, who at the Department of Justice could take any recommendations from the FBI?

We've got to remember, the FBI investigates a case and then makes recommendations to push for an indictment or for charges. That goes to the U.S. attorney or someone in the Department of Justice. So are they impartial at the Department of Justice? It sure doesn't look like it this week based on how they were used essentially to come up for cause as to why the director, Comey, needed to be fired.

MARTIN: Former FBI Special Agent Clinton Watts. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

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