Following weeks of negotiations with the special
counsel Robert Mueller, President Donald Trump’s lawyers are
leaning toward steering clear of having the president sit down
for an interview altogether.
Trump’s lawyers reportedly favor the option because
they’re concerned he could be charged with lying to
investigators, which is a federal crime.
Legal experts say it’s unlikely they will be successful
because “Mueller holds the stronger hand” based on legal
After weeks of back-and-forth with the special counsel Robert
Mueller, President Donald Trump’s legal team is angling to avoid
an interview with Robert Mueller altogether, according to The New York
Trump’s personal-defense lawyers, John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, have
been looking to limit the scope of a Mueller interview since late
last year. Options they were reviewing included providing written
responses to questions and submitting an affidavit saying Trump
did nothing wrong.
The main reason Trump’s lawyers are moving towards completely
avoiding a wide-ranging interview with Mueller is that they are
concerned the president, who has a history of embellishment and
exaggeration, could be charged with lying to investigators, per
Reached for comment, Dowd said, “The active discussions between
the OSC and the President’s personal lawyers regarding how and
under what terms information will be exchanged are understandably
This latest revelation builds on reports last week which said
that as they seek to sidestep a Mueller interview, Trump’s
lawyers are gearing up to argue that Mueller has not met the
required standard to merit a face-to-face sit down with the
Despite his lawyers’ reported trepidation, Trump has privately
and publicly said he is “eager” to interview with the special
counsel. He later added that the agreement would be “subject to
How successful Trump’s defense team would be at avoiding an
interview, however, is up for debate.
‘Mueller holds the stronger hand’
“This strategy will trigger a prolonged court battle that will
take months to resolve,” said Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at
Cornell Law School and an expert in criminal law. “The result
will be a delay to the Mueller investigation and consequently no
end in sight for Trump’s legal woes.”
This also marks a turning point in the White House’s response to
the Russia probe. Since last year, Trump’s legal team, whose
public statements have largely been led by Cobb, has projected an
image of transparency and a willingness to be as forthcoming as
possible with the special counsel’s document and interview
But “they appear to have given up on that approach,” Ohlin said.
“The new strategy is delay, delay, delay.”
Though Dowd and Sekulow are said to be working to steer clear of
a Mueller interview, they are at odds with Cobb, who still
believes the White House should be as cooperative as possible.
If Trump refuses an interview request, Mueller could respond with
a grand-jury subpoena, which legal experts said he would not be
able to avoid.
“My money is on Mueller” because he “holds the stronger hand,”
said Andrew Wright, who used to serve as a White House lawyer
under former President Barack Obama.
The special counsel’s authority to subpoena Trump was enforced by
US v. Nixon in 1974, in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of
special prosecutor Archibald Cox over President Richard Nixon’s
claims of executive privilege and objections of intra-executive
Moreover, the Supreme Court ruled in 1997, in Clinton v. Jones,
that a sitting president is not immune from civil-law litigation.
The decision resulted in then President Bill Clinton having to
testify before a grand jury after former Arkansas state employee
Paula Jones accused him of sexual harassment.
“A criminal case is far more important than a civil suit, so the
public-policy rationale for requiring the president to testify is
stronger, not weaker, in [Trump’s] case,” Ohlin said.
Mueller closes in on the White House
Trump is a central figure in several threads of the Russia
investigation, which means his testimony could prove crucial to
Mueller. In addition to investigating whether members of the
Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the 2016 race in his
favor, Mueller is also looking into whether Trump sought to
obstruct justice when he
fired FBI director James Comey
Though the White House said Comey was fired because of his
handling of the FBI
investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email
server, Trump later said he was fired
because of “this Russia thing.” He also reportedly told two top Russian government
officials that dismissing Comey had taken “great pressure”
off of him.
Comey’s firing came three months after Trump asked him, during a
private meeting last February, to let go of the FBI’s
investigation into former national security adviser Michael
Flynn. Flynn pleaded guilty in December to
one count of lying to federal investigators during an interview
in January 2017.
Trump said in a tweet the day after
the Flynn charge was announced that he had to fire him because he
“lied to the FBI.” Experts said at the time that if Trump
knew Flynn had committed a crime when he asked Comey to drop the
FBI investigation, it would significantly bolster the obstruction
case against him.
Trump’s lawyers are reportedly angling to argue that Trump did
nothing wrong when he fired Comey, because he has the
constitutional authority to do so as president. But the president
may not fire the FBI director if his intent is to obstruct
justice — otherwise known as having “corrupt intent.”To prove
corrupt intent, prosecutors must establish that a defendant has
engaged in a pattern of behavior that points to criminal conduct.
Even if Trump’s lawyers are able to argue that Trump did not
obstruct justice when he fired Comey, Wright said, there are a
host of other events Trump was involved in that are at issue in
the Russia probe.
The special counsel is examining, for instance, Trump’s reported
decision to craft a misleading statement
that his son, Donald Trump Jr., put out in response to reports
last year that he met with a Russian lawyer
offering kompromat on then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in
June 2016, at the height of the campaign.
Trump Jr. initially said the meeting did not involve campaign
business, but it later emerged that he only
agreed to the meeting after he was offered dirt on Clinton as
“part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
More than that, Wright added, Trump is a key witness as far as
other campaign events go, including his remark on live television
that he “hoped” Russia would be “able to find the 30,000
[Clinton] emails that are missing,” and his knowledge of
pro-Russia changes to the GOP platform during the 2016 election.
“The President can’t successfully distinguish his reasons for
avoiding an interview from prior Presidents,” Wright said, adding
that former presidents Bush, Clinton, and others testified and
interviewed with prosecutors.
“President Trump’s habit of lying is not something a court will
accept as a reason to shield him from giving evidence.”