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- Thomson Reuters
- President Donald Trump’s lawyers have reportedly provided the special counsel Robert Mueller with written documents about key events Mueller is scrutinizing.
- The move is said to be part of an effort to help Trump avoid answering questions about critical moments, like the firing of FBI director James Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn.
- The documents outline the White House’s view of the incidences, as well as others who were involved, but they do not include Trump’s personal version of events.
- It’s unlikely Mueller will agree to forego interviewing Trump about those events in exchange for the written materials.
President Donald Trump’s lawyers have given the special counsel Robert Mueller written materials about key events Mueller is scrutinizing as part of his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported Monday.
The move comes as Mueller has been pushing for a face-to-face interview with the president, who is a subject of scrutiny in several threads of the Russia investigation. Trump’s lawyers have been working for months to sidestep or significantly limit the scope of an interview between Mueller and their client, who has a tendency to make exaggerated and misleading claims.
The news also comes after The New York Times reported last weekend that Mueller recently sent over a list of questions to Trump’s team. The questions are not intended to take the place of an interview, according to the report, but will rather serve as a starting point from which Mueller can ask follow-ups in person.
According to The Post, Mueller’s investigators have asked two primary questions about Trump: “What did he do?” and “What was he thinking when he did it?”
Trump is the focal point of the special counsel’s obstruction-of-justice case, which stems from Trump’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey last May.
Although the White House initially said Comey was fired because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Trump later told NBC’s Lester Holt that “this Russia thing” was a factor in his decision. He also reportedly told two top Russian government officials that firing Comey had taken “great pressure” off of him.
Comey’s ouster came after Trump repeatedly pressed him for his loyalty and asked him to drop the bureau’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last year.
Flynn pleaded guilty in December to one count of making false statements to investigators about his communications with then Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Trump tweeted the day after Flynn pleaded guilty that he had been forced to fire Flynn in February 2017 because he “lied to the FBI.”
Legal analysts said at the time that if Trump knew Flynn had misled the FBI when he fired him – as the tweet indicated – and still asked Comey to drop the investigation into him, it would significantly bolster the obstruction case against him.
- Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
‘The only person who can testify authoritatively to Donald Trump’s motives is Donald Trump’
The written materials Trump’s lawyers have provided reportedly include summaries of internal White House memos and correspondences about events Mueller is looking into, like Comey’s and Flynn’s firing. The documents are also said to detail the involvement of others in the White House in coming to those decisions, as well as Trump’s actions.
Notably, the documents do not outline Trump’s personal views of the events that took place. Rather, The Post reported, they represent the White House’s version of events, and Trump’s lawyers are hoping that helps them avoid having Trump answer questions from Mueller about key moments that are under investigation.
In order to prove obstruction, prosecutors must establish “corrupt intent,” and it’s therefore unlikely that Mueller will forego asking Trump questions in person about events, like Comey’s firing, that are critical to proving his case.
“The only person who can testify authoritatively to Donald Trump’s motives is Donald Trump,” said Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School and an expert on criminal law.
Former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter echoed that point, saying Trump was “clearly the only person on earth who knows what the prosecutor wants to know.”
“Only Trump can testify as to what he knew, when he knew it, and what his intentions were when he did the things he did,” Cotter said. “So, even using the Trump lawyers’ dubious standard, Trump should agree to the interview.”
John Dowd, Trump’s personal defense lawyer and the main point of contact between the president and the special counsel, told The Post the team has “very constructive, productive communications” with Mueller.
“We’re blessed to have them,” Dowd added. “I think it’s helpful to them and of course I think it’s very helpful to us.”
Dowd’s statements to The Post mark a significant departure from his calls last weekend for the Russia investigation be shut down.
“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd said in a text message to The Daily Beast.
He initially said he was making the statement in his capacity as Trump’s attorney, but later walked that back and said he was acting in his own capacity and not on Trump’s behalf.
Hours later, Trump blasted out a tweet which echoed Dowd’s statement about the “fraudulent” Trump-Russia dossier.
“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” he tweeted. “It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!”
“Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans?” he later tacked on. “Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”
Trump has reportedly told advisers he is “chomping at the bit” to sit down for an interview. How beneficial that would be for his case remains to be seen.