WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a new member of Donald Trump’s evolving legal team, said the president’s lawyers are still open to him sitting down for an interview with Robert Mueller despite the departure of a key advocate for cooperating with the special counsel.
Giuliani said in an interview on Wednesday (May 2) that the team would need assurances that Mueller’s questioning would be fair and limited in scope.
“We would be inclined to do it,” Giuliani said of a potential interview, which could touch on Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey. “But if we came to conclusion they have already made up their mind and Comey is telling the truth – that is a joke, Comey hasn’t told the truth in years – then we would just be leading him into the lion’s den.”
Giuliani spoke as the latest rejiggering of the president’s legal team unfolded. Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer handling the investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia, is being replaced by Emmet Flood, a veteran attorney who was part of the team representing former President Bill Clinton during his impeachment hearing.
With the departure of Cobb, who will retire at the end of May, the White House loses a strong voice in favour of the president sitting down with Mueller. But Giuliani said it’s not a signal of shift on that issue.
“This is a normal change,” Giuliani said. “Emmet Flood is coming in to replace Ty,” who he said has “done a great job.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that “Flood will be joining the White House staff to represent the president and the administration against the Russia witch hunt. Ty Cobb, a friend of the president, who has done a terrific job, will be retiring at the end of the month.”
While Flood’s views on how to handle the Russia probe aren’t clear, he does bring vast experience with an emphasis on asserting a president’s constitutional prerogatives. That could come into play as Trump’s legal team continues to negotiate a possible interview of the president by Mueller, whose team has said it could resort to a subpoena for Trump to appear before a grand jury.
“Some people have talked about a possible 12-hour interview,” Giuliani told the Washington Post on Wednesday. “That’s not going to happen, I’ll tell you that. It’d be, max, two to three hours around a narrow set of questions.”
In Flood’s role as a White House lawyer, he’ll be representing the office of the president rather than Trump personally.
In addition to helping to represent Clinton, Flood assisted former President George W. Bush with a series of congressional inquiries, including the investigation into his firing of seven US attorneys.
Flood didn’t immediately respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Trump spoke last week with Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, who’s now Trump’s lead attorney in Mueller’s probe, about Cobb’s departure, according to Giuliani, who said he believed Cobb was leaving voluntarily. In the meeting, Giuliani said, he talked with Trump about his assessment of where the case was heading and what Trump’s personal lawyers could do compared with the role Flood will play.
The announcement of Cobb’s departure came abruptly on Wednesday – just hours after he conducted an interview with ABC News in which he said “people are working hard to make decisions and work towards an interview” with Mueller.“
Assuming that can be concluded favourably, there’ll be an interview,” Cobb said in the interview.
Earlier this week, the New York Times published a list of more than 40 questions it said that Mueller’s team wanted the president to answer. The questions focused on conversations between the Russian government and his campaign, as well as actions Trump took related to possible obstruction of justice. Trump has previously said he’d be willing to meet with the special counsel, though will defer to the advice of his attorneys.
The switch is the latest change on a Trump legal team that has been defined by upheaval. Last month, Giuliani joined the group of lawyers outside the White House after the former head of that team, John Dowd, quit earlier this year amid disagreements about strategy.
From the start, Trump’s legal team has been out-manned by Mueller’s. While Mueller had a team of more than a dozen seasoned prosecutors at the prime of their careers, Dowd had decades of experience with large-scale investigations but was in solo practice and nearing retirement. Sekulow brought a background in constitutional law but had no experience with a major criminal probe. Neither had the resources of a major law firm to draw on.
After Dowd’s departure, Sekulow struggled to find another lawyer with experience in white-collar investigations to help after several high-profile lawyers turned down the work because of conflicts of interest or concerns about the negative publicity that could come from being involved. About a month later, Sekulow said Giuliani would be joining the legal team, along with Florida-based white-collar defence lawyers Martin and Jane Raskin.
In March, the Times reported that Flood could be tapped to join Trump’s legal team. Trump called it a “false story,” and said he was “very happy” with his attorneys, including Dowd, Cobb and Sekulow.