AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We want to go back to a moment to something we mentioned earlier, President Trump tweeting on the second day of the trial of Paul Manafort. The president has been criticizing the special counsel probe that led to the indictment of his former campaign chairman. One of his tweets compares Manafort's treatment to that of notorious gangster Al Capone. Another said attorney general Jeff Sessions should end the Russia investigation. So all day, the White House and Trump's legal team have been trying to play down the significance of the president's words. Here's his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
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RUDY GIULIANI: He expresses his opinions on Twitter. He used the word should. He didn't use the word must. And there was no presidential directive that followed it.
CORNISH: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe joins us now from the White House. Hey there, Ayesha.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.
CORNISH: So as we said, the president attacked special counsel Robert Mueller. He's been doing this for a while now, frankly. So was there anything different about his tweets today?
RASCOE: It was a bit different. He went a little further than he has before. Trump is obviously no fan of the Russia investigation. He has strongly criticized attorney general Jeff Sessions over this probe. But this time, he said Sessions, quote, "should stop the investigation right now" and that it's damaging the nation. He also - as you mentioned, he seemed sympathetic to Manafort. He asked whether Manafort was being treated worse than Al Capone, who was a mobster. So the (laughter) White House says that the president feels Manafort is being treated unfairly.
CORNISH: We heard Giuliani earlier there trying to parse the tweets, like, some of the language there. Could this be considered obstruction of justice?
RASCOE: Well, the White House and Giuliani and Trump's lawyers are arguing that it's not obstruction. They say that Trump was not demanding that Sessions fire Robert Mueller and that instead the president was just stating how he feels about the situation. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was pressed about this during the briefing today, and this is what she had to say.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, the president is not obstructing. He's fighting back. The president is stating his opinion. He's stating it clearly.
RASCOE: And this is the White House position, that this - the probe is corrupted. But you have FBI director Chris Wray and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and others, and they say strongly that this is not a witch hunt. And the public doesn't really seem to be on the side of the White House on this. A recent poll that we found - a recent poll that we did found that more than two-thirds of Americans believe Mueller should be allowed to finish his investigation. And that's including 60 percent of Republicans.
CORNISH: I want to step back a bit. Give us some context here. Is it unusual for a sitting president to be weighing in on an ongoing criminal trial?
RASCOE: It is unusual, even in these unusual times that we live in. In the past, presidents have typically gone out of their way to not weigh in on ongoing, active court cases. There was this idea that there should be a wall between the White House and the Justice Department, especially with ongoing litigation. But Trump is not adhering to that at all.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe at the White House. Thanks so much, Ayesha.
RASCOE: Thank you.
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