Wednesday 25 April 2018

Trump advised to decline Mueller probe interview

Lawyers tell president not to answer questions in Russia investigation

US President Donald Trump and wife Melania Trump at the White House. Photo: Getty
US President Donald Trump and wife Melania Trump at the White House. Photo: Getty

Ben Riley-Smith

US President Donald Trump said yesterday he would "love" to see another government shutdown as Republicans and Democrats in Congress worked to reach a budget deal that would prevent federal agencies from having to close their doors this week.

The Republican president said he would welcome a shutdown if a spending deal did not include changes to immigration laws, challenging Democrats on the issue that led to a three-day partial closure of government agencies last month.

He spoke even as Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate said they were closing in on an agreement that could dramatically raise spending levels for both military and domestic programmes and ensure the government will keep operating when temporary spending expires tomorrow.

The deal could potentially put an end to the brinkmanship over spending that has periodically roiled Washington and that resulted in funds running out for the US government in January.

Mr Trump said he would welcome a shutdown if Congress does not strengthen border protections and "take care of our military".

"I'd love to see a shutdown if we don't get this stuff taken care of," he said.

Donald Trump's lawyers have reportedly advised him against answering questions from Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the investigation into Russian election meddling.

They fear the US president could be charged with lying to investigators, according to a 'New York Times' report, which noted his tendency to contradict himself in the past.

Other high-profile supporters of Mr Trump such as Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie, the former presidential candidates, have also urged him to reject any request.

The advice appears at odds with Mr Trump's own instinct to agree to be interviewed, something he publicly said he would do last month.

A refusal to be questioned could create months of legal wrangling and push back the end date for the investigation.

Mr Mueller is said to be looking into as many as five different areas of Russian election interference, one of which is obstruction of justice.

Steve Bannon, Mr Trump's former campaign chief and White House adviser, is said to be prepared to talk to Mr Mueller but has been less forthcoming with Congress.

Fox News reported that Mr Bannon will decline to appear before the House intelligence committee, which is looking into Russia's role in the 2016 presidential election, despite a subpoena being issued.

Mr Mueller, who was tasked with leading the Russian investigation after Mr Trump fired James Comey as FBI director, is seeking an interview with the president.

Last month, Mr Trump said he was "looking forward" to the interview and was willing to appear under oath, before adding "subject to my lawyers, and all of that". The 'New York Times' reported John Dowd, a lawyer hired to represent Mr Trump in the investigation, and Jay Sekulow, his deputy, want the president to "rebuff" any interview request.

Trap

Mr Gingrich said: "The idea of putting Trump in a room with five or six hardened, very clever lawyers, all of whom are trying to trick him and trap him, would be a very, very bad idea."

Meanwhile, Mr Trump has come under pressure after the US stock market, which he has cited as proof of the success of his presidency, dropped sharply in recent days. The White House attempted to put the focus on the wider economy rather than the stock market.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said: "The president's focus is on our long-term economic fundamentals, which remain exceptionally strong, with strengthening US economic growth, historically low unemployment and increasing wages for American workers."

© Daily Telegraph, London

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