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President Donald Trump’s lawyers have adopted a new legal strategy of cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller in the hopes that he will do the one thing former FBI director James Comey did not: confirm publicly that Trump is not being investigated as part of the FBI’s Russia probe, according to The New York Times.
Mueller was appointed special counsel after Trump fired Comey in May. Initially, the White House said Trump’s dismissal of Comey was based entirely on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation and because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Shortly after, however, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that “this Russia thing” had been a factor in his decision, and that he was going to fire Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s recommendation.
Comey also told the Senate Intelligence Committee in June that before firing him, Trump had asked him to shut down the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which included examining whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Moscow to tilt the election in his favor.
Though Comey privately told Trump that he was not under investigation, he did not do so publicly in case he had to amend or retract his statement down the road, and it’s likely Mueller will make the same call because of that reason.
Mueller is reportedly investigating Trump for obstruction of justice based on his decision to fire Comey. The special counsel is also examining Trump’s role in crafting a misleading statement his son, Donald Trump Jr., issued in response to reports that he met with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton last June.
Trump’s advisers reportedly urged more transparency in the initial statement, but he overruled them and the statement had to be amended several times as new details about the meeting emerged.
Trump’s legal team at first contemplated undertaking an aggressive strategy meant to discredit Mueller and the Russia investigation, but they reportedly switched gears after white-collar criminal defense attorney Ty Cobb took over the White House’s response to the probe.
Cobb has reportedly advocated being as cooperative and responsive as possible to the special counsel’s requests in an effort to speed up the investigation and prove Trump’s innocence.
White House counsel Don McGahn, on the other hand, has resisted being too forthcoming because he thinks Trump will be able to assert executive privilege over many of their interactions.
But it appears that the White House is leaning towards Cobb’s strategy – The Times reported that officials are “strongly considering” allowing McGahn to speak to Mueller’s team about his private conversations with Trump.
McGahn is one of several West Wing staffers the special counsel wants to interview, presumably because he was witness to certain critical events that are of importance in the investigation, including the circumstances surrounding Comey’s firing, as well as those surrounding the resignation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who is also a key subject in the investigation.