Avoid Mueller, Trump Advised; Lawyers See Interview Risks

Feb 06, 2018
In The News

Avoid Mueller, Trump Advised; Lawyers See Interview Risks
Published by: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Written by: ADG Staff

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for President Donald Trump have advised him against sitting down for a wide-ranging interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, according to four people briefed on the matter, raising the prospect of a court battle over whether the president must answer questions under oath.

His lawyers are concerned that the president, who has a history of contradicting himself, could be charged with lying to investigators. Their stance puts them at odds with Trump, who has said publicly and privately that he is eager to speak with Mueller as part of the investigation into possible ties between his associates and Russia’s election interference, and whether he obstructed justice.

Trump’s decision about whether to speak to prosecutors, expected in the coming weeks, will shape one of the most consequential moments of the investigation. Refusing to sit for an interview opens the possibility that Mueller will subpoena the president to testify before a grand jury, setting up a court fight that would dramatically escalate the investigation.

But John Dowd, the longtime Washington defense lawyer hired last summer to represent Trump in the investigation, wants to rebuff an interview request, as do Dowd’s deputy, Jay Sekulow, and many West Wing advisers, according to the four people. The lawyers and aides believe that the special counsel might be unwilling to subpoena the president and set off a showdown with the White House that Mueller could lose in court.

They are convinced that Mueller lacks the legal standing to question Trump about some of the matters he is investigating, like the president’s role in providing a misleading response last summer to a New York Times story about a meeting Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. had with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The advisers have also argued that on other matters — like the allegations that the president asked the former FBI director, James Comey, to end the investigation into the former national security adviser Michael Flynn — the president acted within his constitutional authority and cannot be questioned about acts that were legal.

Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously on Monday to make public a classified Democratic memorandum rebutting Republican claims that the FBI and the Justice Department had abused their powers to wiretap a former Trump campaign official.

The vote gives Trump five days to review the Democratic memo and determine whether he will try to block its release.

The senior Democrat on the panel, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, announced the vote results, saying GOP attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI show desperation on the part of the president’s defenders.

“We think this will help inform the public of the many distortions and inaccuracies” in the GOP memo released last week, Schiff told reporters after Monday’s vote, adding he was concerned the Trump administration could still try to stymie the Democrats’ response.

“We want to make sure that the White House does not redact our memo for political purposes,” Schiff said.

Democrats have said their 10-page memo corrects mischaracterizations by the Republicans and adds crucial context to actions by the FBI and the Justice Department in obtaining a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order to wiretap the former Trump aide, Carter Page, in October 2016.

Arkansas’ Rep. Rick Crawford said it was “fair and reasonable” to allow Democrats to release a memo of their own.

The Republican from Jonesboro, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, said he missed the vote because of a travel delay but would’ve voted “yes” had he been there.

“I think you’ll see, when you compare and contrast the two [memos], there’s very little that they can refute about ours.”

If Trump tries to block the Democratic memo’s release, House rules allow Democrats to seek a closed vote of the full House of Representatives to override the president.

A White House official said on Monday that it was prepared to review the memo.

“We will consider it along the same terms that we considered the Nunes memo,” a White House spokesman, Raj Shah, told reporters aboard Air Force One, referring to the released Republican memo, which was drafted by the House Intelligence Committee’s Republican chairman, Devin Nunes of California.

But the Democratic memo’s future is uncertain. Trump signaled earlier Monday that he had little goodwill toward the committee’s Democrats, launching a broadside at Schiff. Trump accused Schiff on Twitter of illegally leaking confidential information from the committee, called the congressman “Little Adam Schiff” and said that he “must be stopped.”

Schiff quickly shot back: “Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or … really anything else.”

And during a speech about tax cuts Monday in Ohio, Trump went off script to talk about the Nunes memo.

“Oh, but did we catch them in the act or what?” he asked his audience. “You know what I’m talking about. Oh, did we catch them in the act. They are very embarrassed. They never thought they were going to get caught. We caught them. Hey, we caught them. It’s so much fun — we’re like the great sleuth.”

Nunes’ four-page memo centered on the FBI’s use of material from a former British spy, Christopher Steele, in the warrant application to spy on Page. Steele was researching possible connections between Russia’s election interference and Trump associates, but the memo said that the FBI had not disclosed to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that he was being paid by the Democratic National Committee and lawyers for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The Democratic memo is said to contend that the FBI was more forthcoming with the surveillance court than Republicans had claimed. People familiar with the Democratic document said that it reveals that while the FBI did not name the Democratic National Committee or Clinton’s campaign, the bureau disclosed to the court that the information it had received from Steele was politically motivated.

Confronted on Monday with Democratic claims that such a disclosure was included in the application, Nunes conceded on Fox & Friends that there had been a “footnote” to that effect. But he called its inclusion a “far cry from letting the American people know that the Democrats and the Hillary campaign paid for dirt that the FBI then used to get a warrant.”

The New York Times filed a motion on Monday asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to unseal all materials related to the wiretap of Page, including the FBI’s application for the warrant and other court documents. Since Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978, no such wiretapping application materials have been made public.

Also on Monday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the FBI is blocking release of key parts of a memo he wrote calling for a criminal investigation of Steele.

“Seeking transparency and cooperation should not be this challenging,” Grassley said in a statement after posting a heavily redacted version of the criminal referral that he and Sen. Lindsey Graham , R-S.C., sent to the Justice Department last month.

Grassley asked the FBI to approve a declassified version of his Steele referral by today.

Information for this article was contributed by Nicholas Fandos, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times; by Mary Clare Jalonick and Catherine Lucey of The Associated Press; by Steven T. Dennis of Bloomberg News; by Karoun Demirjian, Devlin Barrett and John Wagner of The Washington Post; and by Frank E. Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Arkansas’ Rep. Rick Crawford said it was “fair and reasonable” to allow Democrats to release a memo of their own.

The Republican from Jonesboro, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, said he missed the vote because of a travel delay but would’ve voted “yes” had he been there.

“I think you’ll see, when you compare and contrast the two [memos], there’s very little that they can refute about ours.”

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