Trump Team Gives Mueller Probe Answers 11/21 06:13
President Donald Trump has provided the special counsel with written answers
to questions about his knowledge of Russian interference in the 2016 election,
his lawyers said Tuesday, avoiding at least for now a potentially risky
sit-down with prosecutors. It's the first time he has directly cooperated with
the long investigation.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump has provided the special counsel
with written answers to questions about his knowledge of Russian interference
in the 2016 election, his lawyers said Tuesday, avoiding at least for now a
potentially risky sit-down with prosecutors. It's the first time he has
directly cooperated with the long investigation.
The step is a milestone in the negotiations between Trump's attorneys and
special counsel Robert Mueller's team over whether and when the president might
sit for an interview.
The compromise outcome, nearly a year in the making, offers some benefit to
both sides. Trump at least temporarily averts the threat of an in-person
interview, which his lawyers have long resisted, while Mueller secures
on-the-record statements whose accuracy the president will be expected to stand
by for the duration of the investigation.
The responses may also help stave off a potential subpoena fight over
Trump's testimony if Mueller deems them satisfactory. They represent the first
time the president is known to have described to investigators his knowledge of
key moments under scrutiny by prosecutors.
But investigators may still press for more information.
Mueller's team months ago presented Trump's legal team with dozens of
questions they wanted to ask the president related to whether his campaign
coordinated with the Kremlin to tip the 2016 election and whether he sought to
obstruct the Russia probe by actions including the firing of former FBI
Director James Comey. The investigators agreed to accept written responses to
questions about potential Russian collusion and tabled, for the moment,
Mueller left open the possibility that he would follow up with additional
questions on obstruction, though Trump's lawyers --- who had long resisted any
face-to-face interview --- have been especially adamant that the Constitution
shields him from having to answer any questions about actions he took as
Trump attorney Jay Sekulow offered no details on the current Q&A, saying
merely that "the written questions submitted by the special counsel's office
... dealt with issues regarding the Russia-related topics of the inquiry. The
president responded in writing." He said the legal team would not release
copies of the questions and answers or discuss any correspondence it has had
with the special counsel's office.
Another of Trump's lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, said the lawyers continue to
believe that "much of what has been asked raised serious constitutional issues
and was beyond the scope of a legitimate inquiry." He said Mueller's office had
received "unprecedented cooperation from the White House," including about 1.4
million pages of materials.
"It is time to bring this inquiry to a conclusion," Giuliani said.
The president told reporters last week that he had prepared the responses
Trump said in a Fox News interview that aired Sunday that he was unlikely to
answer questions about obstruction, saying, "I think we've wasted enough time
on this witch hunt and the answer is, probably, we're finished."
Trump joins a list of recent presidents who have submitted to questioning as
part of a criminal investigation.
In 2004, President George W. Bush was interviewed by special counsel Patrick
Fitzgerald's office during an investigation into the leaked identity of a
covert CIA officer. In 1998, President Bill Clinton testified before a federal
grand jury in independent counsel Ken Starr's Whitewater investigation.
"It's very extraordinary if this were a regular case, but it's not every day
that you have an investigation that touches upon the White House," Solomon
Wisenberg, a Washington lawyer who was part of Starr's team and conducted the
grand jury questioning of Clinton, said of a prosecutor accepting written
Mueller could theoretically still try to subpoena the president if he feels
the answers are not satisfactory.
But Justice Department leaders, including acting Attorney General Matthew
Whitaker --- who now oversees the investigation and has spoken pejoratively of
it in the past --- would have to sign off on such a move, and it's far from
clear that they would. It's also not clear that Mueller's team would prevail if
a subpoena fight reached the Supreme Court.
"Mueller certainly could have forced the issue and issued a subpoena, but I
think he wants to present a record of having bent over backwards to be fair,"
The Supreme Court has never directly ruled on whether a president can be
subpoenaed to testify in a criminal case. Clinton was subpoenaed to appear
before the Whitewater grand jury, but investigators withdrew the subpoena after
he agreed to appear voluntarily.
Other cases involving Presidents Richard Nixon and Clinton have presented
similar issues for the justices that could be instructive now.
In 1974, for instance, the court ruled that Nixon could be ordered to turn
over subpoenaed recordings, a decision that hastened his resignation. The court
in 1997 said Clinton could be questioned under oath in a sexual harassment
lawsuit brought by Paula Jones.