Exclusive: Trump begins informal prep for potential Mueller interview

President Donald Trump has begun the ini...

Posted: Apr 7, 2018 1:26 PM
Updated: Apr 7, 2018 1:26 PM

President Donald Trump has begun the initial steps of preparing for a possible interview with the special counsel, a White House official and a person familiar with the situation said Friday, a sign the President's legal team is intensifying its deliberations over whether to allow him to come under Robert Mueller's questioning.

One source familiar with the proceedings stressed the preparation efforts is "in its infancy."

The preparations have been short and informal and included going over potential topics with the President that Mueller would likely raise in an interview, the people said.

The President has not formally agreed to sit for an interview with Mueller.

But word of early preparations is the clearest sign yet that Trump and his team remain open to an interview with Mueller, despite concerns from some people close to the President that such an interview could expose him to possible charges of perjury.

Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer handling Mueller issues, and Jay Sekulow, the President's attorney, declined to comment.

Interview prospects

Outwardly, Trump has remained receptive to -- even enthusiastic about -- the prospect of sitting before Mueller, who is investigating whether his campaign colluded with Russia and whether Trump attempted to short-circuit the investigation itself. He has indicated that sitting for an interview himself could help bring the investigation to a swift end.

Privately, however, Trump has been more equivocal about answering Mueller's questions, depending on the day. Trump has wavered on his pledge as friends and advisers caution him of the risks of speaking to prosecutors who have already charged 19 individuals with criminal offenses, including lying.

The terms of how Trump would be questioned -- including whether he would speak under oath -- have not yet been determined. Even if he isn't questioned under oath, however, Trump could still open himself to charges if he lies to Mueller's team, since lying to the FBI is a crime.

Trump told reporters in January he was "looking forward" to an interview with Mueller, insisting there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.

"I'd love to do it," Trump said, indicating that he'd been told by his lawyers an interview would take place in "two to three weeks."

Two-and-a-half months later, Trump's legal team has not committed to making Trump available to Mueller for an interview. Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said this week that talks were continuing between Trump and his lawyers about a possible interview with Mueller.

"The President is working in conjunction with his legal team and making a determination," Sanders said on Tuesday. "We're continuing to be fully cooperative with the Office of the Special Counsel, and we'll continue driving the same message that we've been driving for over a year, that there was no collusion."

Investigation status

While Trump himself has not been submitted for questioning to Mueller, multiple White House officials have been made available to Mueller's team. The White House has also produced reams of documents for the special counsel.

Multiple aides to the President continue to describe him as obsessed with the Russia investigation, becoming increasingly agitated as details about the probe emerge. Trump feels the investigation undermines his presidency and has grown increasingly bitter that it has not yet concluded, the aides have said.

Members of the President's legal team have been negotiating for months with Mueller's office over potential topics that may be included in a presidential interview.

Attorneys on both sides sat down late last month in a rare face-to-face discussion about the topics investigators could inquire of the President. It was the first in-person meeting after several weeks of informal discussions between the two sides, according to two sources familiar with the talks.

In that session -- which Mueller himself did not attend -- the special counsel's team provided more specific details about the topics it had originally presented to Trump's lawyers months ago, which include the firing of FBI Director James Comey, attorney general Jeff Sessions involvement in that firing and Trump's knowledge of phone calls national security adviser Michael Flynn placed to the Russian ambassador in late 2016.

Deliberations over an interview with Mueller have proceeded amid tumult within the President's legal team. Midway through March, the lead lawyer, John Dowd, resigned amid disagreements with the President and increased scrutiny in the probe. That's left Jay Sekulow, an outside attorney, and Cobb, who works in the White House, as the remaining lawyers representing the President in this matter.

At least five major law firms have been invited -- but declined -- invitations to help Trump navigate the Mueller investigation.

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