NOEL KING, HOST:
In his Sunday ABC News interview, former FBI Director James Comey said this about whether the Russian government has compromising information about President Donald Trump.
(SOUNDBITE OF ABC NEWS BROADCAST)
JAMES COMEY: I think it's possible. I don't know. These are more words I never thought I'd utter about a president United States, but, it's possible.
KING: All right. Here to discuss Comey's comments and the strikes in Syria is Senator Jack Reed. He's a Rhode Island Democrat and an ex officio member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Good morning, Senator.
JACK REED: Good morning, Noel.
KING: All right. So what do you make of this suggestion that Russia could have compromising intelligence on our president? Is that consistent with what you've found in your own investigation?
REED: Well, there has been allegations of that effect for many, many months, and some based on the notorious Steele dossier. All of that is being investigated by not only our committee but most particularly and most actually by Director Mueller. No conclusion has been reached yet. There are indications, but the indications have to be verified. But it's a very awkward situation for the president to even have these charges being discussed.
KING: Certainly. Do you believe that there was obstruction of justice in the firing of James Comey?
REED: I, again, I think that has to be evaluated. We're a nation of laws. We have to go ahead and serve due process, discover evidence. And when that evidence is compelling enough then we come forward and bring charges. We're still at the stage, particularly the investigation by Director Mueller, of pulling together the evidence. He has already, not with respect to the president, but with respect to numerous other individuals, he's already been able to find evidence and get charges. In fact, he even gave guilty pleas. So there's something here. The question is does it lead to those types of charges against the president? That's still to be resolved.
KING: What is the biggest question you have for James Comey about his experience in the Trump administration?
REED: Well, I think the biggest question is the one that's already been put on the table, which was, was there patented and compelling path of activity that would suggest that there is a criminal charge of obstruction of justice in not only Comey's firing but the president's purported attempts to get investigations about General Flynn and others dismissed?
KING: Senator, I want to turn now to Syria and these missile strikes over the past weekend. You put out a statement saying there are significant and complicated questions with respect to the legal justification for Friday's strike. It was on Friday. Did the president have the legal authority to launch this attack?
REED: That is a question. Most of our operations overseas today involving lethal force are authorized by the Authorization for Military Force, which was passed immediately after 9/11, and there was a subsequent one for Iraq. I don't think anyone sees that as giving authority for the United States to conduct attacks on sovereign nations, regardless of their abhorrent behavior. And, frankly, that Syrians attack against their own people with chemical weapons is dastardly, but that's not appropriate authority.
KING: Is what the president did illegal then?
REED: Well, the question is, under his Article II responsibilities to defend the nation and to prevent preempt attacks against the nation, can it conduct these military operations? That was the explanation advanced a year ago when he launched attacks against the chemical weapons enterprise in Syria. But repeated use of that puts more and more pressure on a better justification by the president, not simply the reflexive, I can do almost anything in Article II.
KING: Well, the president has offered a justification. He has said that his goal is to deter the production and use of chemical weapons. He says that is a vital national security interest for the United States. Do you agree?
REED: That is a vital national security interest in the United States. The question is, you know, can he engage in a military campaign to do that without the authority of Congress, without the vote of Congress? That's why, again, the first attack seemed to be a reflexive response to an incident which did not look like a long-term commitment of military forces to a military objective destroying the chemical enterprise of Syria. Now we're in a situation of we have to honestly, in our responsibility congressionally, to get a much, much better justification of the president. And if it's insufficient, to press forward for or at the request of the president to ask for authority.
KING: Senator Jack Reed is a Rhode Island Democrat and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Senator, thank you for joining us.
REED: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.