Wednesday 12 December 2018

Mueller pushes to quiz Trump in sit-down

Offer to cut questions in bid to secure president meeting

Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Photo: REUTERS
Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Photo: REUTERS

Carol D Leonnig in Washington

Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicated this week that he is willing to reduce the number of questions his investigators would pose to President Donald Trump in an interview, renewing negotiations with Mr Trump's lawyers about a presidential sit-down after an extended stand-off, according to two people briefed on the negotiations.

The latest proposal by the special counsel comes as Mr Trump has stepped up his attacks on his investigation and Mr Mueller personally.

For months, Mr Mueller has been seeking to question the president as part of his investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 campaign, which is also examining whether Mr Trump has sought to block that probe.

In a letter, Mr Mueller's team suggested that investigators would reduce the number of questions about potential obstruction of justice they would ask in person and instead seek some answers in written form, according to one person.

The special counsel is still seeking to press Mr Trump on topics related to obstruction, including some questions about the firing of then-FBI director James Comey, but not as many as Mr Mueller originally sought.

The two sides have been at an impasse since March, when Mr Mueller raised the possible threat of subpoenaing the president.

Earlier this summer, Mr Trump's legal team sought to set specific conditions on an interview and make central topics off limits - conditions they believed would be dealbreakers for the special counsel.

Among them: that Mr Mueller not ask any questions about actions Mr Trump has taken as president, including his private discussions with Mr Comey.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said earlier this month that he believes such questions could unfairly expose Mr Trump to claims of perjury.

Jay Sekulow, one of Mr Trump's attorneys, declined to comment on the new Mueller proposal and whether the Trump team might accept the offer.

"There continue to be ongoing discussions," Mr Sekulow said. "Nothing's decided."

Mr Giuliani told reporters in New Hampshire on Wednesday said that Mr Trump remains willing to be interviewed if the lawyers can agree on rules.

"I'm not going to give you a lot of hope it's going to happen," he said on CNN. "But we're still negotiating."

"He's always been interested in testifying," he added. "It's us - meaning the team of lawyers, including me - that have the most reservations about that."

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel's office, declined to comment.

In the wake of the proposal by Mueller's team, Mr Trump stepped up his assault on the special counsel investigation, tweeting on Wednesday that the Justice Department should shut it down.

"This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!" he wrote.

When Mr Mueller first proposed a presidential interview in late December, Mr Trump was keen to do it. He told his lawyers he wanted to clear up any questions Mr Mueller had and believed he could put to rest questions about whether his campaign co-ordinated with Russia in the 2016 election.

But Mr Trump's lawyers have been wary of a sit-down.

Mr Giuliani has repeatedly warned that such an interview would expose Mr Trump to legal danger, saying that if Mr Trump made any misstep or if Mr Mueller later determined that other witnesses were more credible than Mr Trump about what he had said and done, the president could face accusations of perjury.

Mr Trump's legal team earlier sought a deal in which the president could provide written answers to some questions.

They also pressed Mr Mueller's investigators to demonstrate that they cannot obtain information without interviewing the president. (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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