Legal questions surrounding Russia probe

ABC News' Amna Nawaz talks to our legal analyst Royal Oakes to get answers to all the legal questions surrounding the ongoing Russia probe and Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel.
9:59 | 05/19/17

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Transcript for Legal questions surrounding Russia probe
The equipment have a special counsel to now look into ration interference in the 2060 election there are a lot of questions. That remain and many of them are legal in nature so we're gonna dig into some though with. A little bit now joining me live right now with ABC news is legal analyst royal oaks well thanks so much for being with us. My pleasure I'm so hopefully you can help us understand a little bit better what. Exactly is happening and what this all means in legal terms moving forward now let me ask you about the special counsel you called it thinking change. That's out Robert Mueller the former FBI director was appointed to this role what did you mean by. What I mean is this is moved from a situation where the trumpet administration is in total control of whether they investigate themselves. Nothing to see here return to your homes. Now instead they don't have control. Robert smaller former director of the FBI has been appointed by the deputy attorney general as special counsel and as a result the power has shifted. From the trump administration in a way to this independent counsel now. The difficulty that may arise is that it's kinda like two locomotives approaching each other from a hundred miles apart. Gradually building speed you could have a head on collision and that's what could happen if Robert Mueller uncover some things the Donald Trump doesn't want him to get into. The difficulty is. The president still has the power to fire Robert Mueller he can start over with a different special counsel if he wants and of course if that happens and if the public it's the sense that we're seeing obstruction of justice. Then of course the democratic calls for impeachment that we're just hearing a few echoes of now. Could get very serious and you could end up in a very apocalyptic. Political and legal situation. There are high stakes indeed before we walked down that path I wanna break down a little bit about what we know that mr. Mueller will be personally there aren't a lot of questions that have come up from all the details that are emerging every day but for Mahler. What are the key clay casks are questions that he is trying to answer in his investigation. Well three main areas number one did the Soviet Union Russia. Interfere with the election last year number 20 did the trump administration. Or the people who were going to work with Donald Trump or trump himself. Somehow colluded with Russia to interfere with the election and the final question of course is was there obstruction of justice and of course this one is what everybody's been talking about in recent days. When Donald Trump apparently took. FBI director of call me aside and said to him you know. Plans are really good guy it would be great if you could see your way clear to let this investigation go. Did that amount to a crime was of obstruction of justice the Democrats of course are saying. You bet that really looks bad it's the president of the United States his boss trying to interfere with the investigation on the other hand the Republicans are gonna push back they're gonna say. What about last year when President Obama told the world he didn't think that there was any violation of national security by Hillary Clinton and yet then about six weeks later call me goes in front of the TV cameras and says you know what I don't think that she committed a violation of the law and he specifically cited what President Obama had said namely. There was no violation of national security so you're gonna have a healthy debate as to whether there was obstruction of justice but those of the key areas where this new special counselor going to be is going to be investing. Well let me ask you on and on obstruction of justice comparison you just made there is it fair to put those on the same plane cut into the well a lot of people are asking that would I'm sure we're gonna hear. The regular partisan fighting that we always hear around all of these issues but legally. From an independent perspective which is the one we hope mr. Mueller is coming from our can those two things be viewed in the same plane. Well that's a really good question and what's gonna happen is that the special counsel's going to focus on the actual statuette pertaining to obstruction of justice is what they're calling it tend statute you have to actually intended to violate the law. And what'll happen he's gonna sister all the facts and try to figure out if in fact Donald Trump was trying to interfere. With an investigation. Did he break the law and of course what's gonna happen is that the first thing we'll see is that the special counsel is gonna send out a flurry of subpoenas we've heard talk about tapes of echoes of Watergate. Word there really tape recordings of conversations with calmly was a phone tapped. What these special counsel is gonna have to do is find out of their documents memos such as the memoranda prepared by call me allegedly after meeting with drop. Any tape recordings it is arms around all that and then start interviewing witnesses and of course that's going to be critical because the traditional prosecutorial approach is. You start lower down on the food chain. And you find it out if there is some incriminating activity. And he can get people to flip. Possibly in return for a light sentence. Then they can point at the people hier of the food chain I think that's that the normal strategy by the prosecutor there's no reason to think that there'll be any thing pursued differently by this special counsel and of course. One thing after a member is. We've never had a special counsel whether as Watergate Iran Contra Valerie Plame or any of these Whitewater where their warts some indictments and so you know. There's an there's going to be a strong motivation to say to themselves among the prosecutors if there is misconduct we're gonna ferret it out. And then that gets us back to our first forties again are you gonna see pushed back by Donald Trump he has the power under the statute. To get rid of the special counsel in the old days of the Watergate he had to have true misconduct on the part of the prosecutor before special prosecutor could be fired is easier now as a result of the 1999 changes in the law. For the president to simply start over and that's when you could see a real critical confrontation. So let me ask you about compliance now some of those people that they're going to want to ask to interview as witnesses alleging they're going to be going after like the alleged memo from -- like the alleged tapes that they exist. From mr. trump. Do people half to comply. We is all of these requests that we expect mr. Mueller to be making all the way up to the president and his inner circle will everyone be forced to produce these documents or these materials that they exist and to interview. That's a really good question you raise. The Fifth Amendment to the constitution guarantees everybody the right to clam up if they feel that what they say might be incriminating. They don't have to cooperate of course. There's a PR price to be paid there you'll look really guilty and a lot of these folks are high profile political types and they don't want everybody to hear oh my gosh he's not talking to the special counsel but in general you do have that right. To decline to cooperate and as a matter of fact we've heard from senator Lindsey Graham just the other day. He's saying okay fine Democrats he got what you want to give a special counsel that means don't expect anything interesting to come out of these congressional investigations the oversight committee the senate and the House Intelligence Committee because when folks are called to talk to them. Very likely many of them will say you know I've wired up and I'm told by my counsel I really shouldn't be talking to you I gotta talk to special counsel Mahler as a result you may not get a lot of cooperation. Final point I'd add there is a lot of people are now scratching their heads and wondering. Make a sitting president to be accused of a crime such as obstruction of justice there was actually a 2000 opinion that came out of the the White House Counsel's Office saying we don't think that you can charge a president with a crime of course the alternative would be impeachment we've been down that road before these are all of the things that are going to be floating around in the minds of the people. That the special counsel is talking to and a lot of them are not gonna know whether they should cooperate or not in terms of their public image. But you can battle lot of lawyers are going to be whispering and barriers. It's fascinating I know there are a lot of questions that we just don't know the answers to yet especially in terms of a timeline where the investigation we'll go next. For mr. Mueller but watts latest out for me just a little bit of what happened in just generally speaking with a special counsel if they find that there is wrongdoing. Does that then get handed over as a recommendation to someone else or does that special counsel then prosecute. Great question what happens is that in the next sixty days the special counsel is going to be assembling the team getting the budget in there. Interviewing witnesses of cleaning documents and then. The question will be is he gonna recommend that anybody be charged with a crime. And that's a critical point in the whole timeline because if somebody's charged. Do your talking about a grand jury he possibly talking about trials but under this special counsel rule the Department of Justice can veto him. The deputy attorney general rob rose and Stein can say okay I appointed you but I think it's irresponsible what you're doing and I'm not gonna allow you to go forward with this prosecution now that's unlikely because again that would be a PR nightmare on the other hand maybe president trump doesn't care about the PR nightmare he might issue that order. Unless there's special counsel is told to stand down if he finds somebody should be accused of a crime they will be charged and then of course there will be a trial there could be multiple trials as we know from Iran Contra. Valerie Plame you've had 457. Year investigations. This thing could drag on a long time and of course. Politically. If in a year and a half for so. The senate or house were to flip over to the Democrats then you have a much different situation in terms of who might be putting pressure on the president on the special counsel and that obviously would increase the chance of impeachment proceedings if the Democrats were to take over in the legislative branch. Royal Oak fascinating. Fascinating. Thank you for your time for helping us understand a little bit better what's happening here appreciate you bet. And thanks to all be watching as well remember you can always go to for more on that story and many others for now I'm on and not have a great weekend now.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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