It’s been nearly a year since Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors started negotiating with President Trump’s lawyers about the prospects for a presidential interview, a request that Trump once said he’d be happy – even eager – to oblige, until his lawyers explained that the downside risks (Trump falling into a perjury trap and possibly winding up in jail) far outweighed the upside (a minor PR victory).
Somewhere around July, Mueller began to realize that his only leverage to try and force an in-person interview, the possibility that he could subpoena the president, wasn’t all that threatening. Given the very flimsy legal precedent and the confirmation of another friendly conservative justice (Neil Gorsuch), subpoenaing a sitting president would be more trouble than it was worth, and far too unorthodox for a man who has built his career on respecting precedents. So, over the summer, Mueller finally conceded, and agreed to accept written answers to his team’s questions, while also agreeing to limit the scope of his inquiry to the probe’s original purpose: The Trump campaign’s ties to Russia (allegations of obstruction of justice would just have to wait).
Which brings us to Tuesday, when CNN reported that Trump’s finalized and, we imagine, thoroughly vetted answers would be submitted to Mueller “in the coming days,” just as his team is said to be busy working on another indictment, or string of indictments.
Trump reportedly met with his lawyers on Monday to give the answers one last review before submitting them.
The meeting was the latest as the responses are finalized, and the source said the answers could be submitted to the special counsel in the coming days. The questions focus on Russia collusion and not obstruction of justice and are part of an agreement reached with Mueller’s team to “move forward,” according to the source.
However, as CNN pointed out, there are still “issues that remain unresolved” – such as whether Trump will answer questions about whether he obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey, or whether an in-person interview might still be a possibility.
But there are other issues that have not been resolved, including answering questions about obstruction and whether the President will sit down for an interview with special counsel.
As CNN previously reported, Trump was meeting with lawyers about the questions before the midterms as he was preparing to remove Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
The move to replace Sessions with acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, who has been openly critical of the special counsel, comes as the White House braces for a return of public activity on the Russia investigation following a pre-election quiet period, according to people briefed on the matter.
Whitaker will now oversee the Mueller investigation, which had previously been under the purview of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
However, Trump’s appointment of Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general over Rod Rosenstein suggests that he has taken the necessary precautions to ensure that Mueller will wrap up his probe in a timely manner, as Whitaker has refused to recuse himself and Mitch McConnell has said that any legislation to protect Mueller would be dead in the water.
Drafts of what were said to be questions submitted by Mueller leaked back in May. But questions about whether these were the final set, or represented just one round in the negotiations, remain.