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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, 
obstruction-related inquiries.

   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 
president.

   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 
himself.

   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 
answers.

   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," 
Wisenberg said.

   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.


(KA)

 
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