Mueller wants to grill Trump
Special counsel Robert Mueller has told President Trump’s lawyers that he could seek an interview with the president early this year, The Washington Post reported this week, prompting speculation that his investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and potential obstruction of justice is entering a new, advanced stage. The president’s lawyers were reportedly trying to limit the interaction to written questions and answers, rather than a face-to-face meeting, to protect the president from the potential risks of self-incrimination and perjury. Veteran prosecutors said it was unlikely Mueller would settle for written responses and that he could subpoena Trump to testify in person if he balks. Asked by reporters if he would testify, Trump said: “Nobody’s found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you’d even have an interview.” He added: “We’ll see.”
Republicans were accused of muddying the congressional probe into potential collusion after Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) referred Christopher Steele, the former British spy who wrote a “dossier” alleging ties between Trump and Russia, to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation—hinting that Steele might have lied to the FBI. In response, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) released a transcript of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s interview of Glenn Simpson, co-founder of Fusion GPS, the firm that commissioned the dossier. Simpson testified that, before Steele shared his own findings with the FBI, the agency had received similar intelligence connecting Trump’s team and Russia “from an internal Trump campaign source.”
What the columnists said
“Could the endless Russia probe soon be over?” asked Howard Kurtz in FoxNews.com. If Mueller wants a sit-down with Trump, he could finally be wrapping up his fishing expedition: Prosecutors usually save questioning their highest-ranking potential targets for last. Reports that Mueller will focus on Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey also provide “a measure of vindication for the White House.” If Mueller is switching to obstruction, it’s likely the collusion question underpinning his entire probe “is fizzling.”
“Legal experts disagree on whether Mueller has enough to make the obstruction charge stick,” said Alex Shephard in NewRepublic.com. Yet Trump continues to be dogged by accusations he tried to block federal authorities from examining his ties with Russia. The latest revelation: The president reportedly urged White House counsel Donald McGahn to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the investigation, while Sessions’ aides shopped for dirt on Comey days before he was fired.
Trump’s lawyers won’t want a “Mueller one-on-one,” said Cristian Farias in NYMag.com. Even disciplined witnesses, including Bill Clinton, have incriminated themselves under oath. Then there’s Trump—“a walking, talking perjury trap.” The president might take the Fifth, said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com, and rely on Republicans to spin his silence as a principled stand against Mueller’s “witch hunt.” It’s a risky strategy, potentially implying guilt, but it may be safer than exposing Trump to “the greatest political and legal peril he’s ever faced.”