Wednesday 12 December 2018

Robert Mueller’s Russia probe team ‘floated idea of subpoena for Trump’

The special counsel is probing Russian election interference, possible coordination with Mr Trump’s associates and possible obstruction of justice by the president.

Donald Trump has branded the entire affair a 'witch hunt' (AP)
Donald Trump has branded the entire affair a 'witch hunt' (AP)

By Chad Day and Eric Tucker, Associated Press

The special counsel leading the Russian collusion investigation raised the prospect of issuing a grand jury subpoena for US president Donald Trump, his former attorney said, confirming that investigators have floated the extraordinary idea of forcing a sitting president to testify under oath.

Attorney John Dowd said special counsel Robert Mueller’s team broached the subject in March during a meeting with Mr Trump’s legal team while they were negotiating the terms of a possible interview with the president.

It was not immediately clear in what context the possibility of a subpoena was raised, or how serious Mr Mueller’s prosecutors were about the move.

Mr Mueller is probing not only Russian election interference and possible coordination with Trump associates, but possible obstruction of justice by the president.

Mr Trump lashed out against the investigation in a familiar fashion, saying on Twitter: “There was no Collusion (it is a Hoax) and there is no Obstruction of Justice (that is a setup & trap).”

Even if Mr Mueller’s team decided to subpoena Mr Trump as part of the investigation, he could still fight it in court or refuse to answer questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination.

Mr Dowd’s comments come more than a month after he resigned from the legal team, and they provide a new window into the nature of Trump lawyers’ interactions with the special counsel, whom the president has increasingly tried to undermine through public attacks.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump said it was “disgraceful” that a list of proposed questions drafted in response to Mr Mueller’s negotiations with the legal team was “leaked” to the media.

About four dozen questions were compiled by Mr Trump’s lawyers during negotiations with Mr Mueller’s investigators earlier this year over the prospect of a presidential interview.

An insider said the president’s lawyers extrapolated the list of expected questions based on conversations with Mr Mueller’s team about the topics prosecutors wanted to cover in a potential sit-down with Mr Trump.

The questions reflected what the defence lawyers anticipated Mr Trump would be asked, rather than verbatim queries that Mr Mueller’s team provided, the source said.

The Washington Post first reported that Mr Mueller’s team raised the possibility of a subpoena for Mr Trump. The New York Times first published the list of questions.

According to the list, the questions range from Mr Trump’s motivation for firing FBI director James Comey a year ago to contacts the Trump campaign had with Russians.

Although Mr Mueller’s team has indicated to Mr Trump’s lawyers that he is not considered a target, investigators remain interested in whether the president’s actions constitute obstruction of justice and want to interview him about several episodes in office.

Mr Trump said there were “no questions on Collusion” and, as he as many times before, called Mr Mueller’s investigation a “Russian witch hunt”. He said collusion with the Russians “never existed”.

He added: “It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened.”

Press Association

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