Special counsel could subpoena Trump

Mr Robert Mueller's probe has taken a new turn after the publication of questions he seeks to ask President Donald Trump, which cover topics including potential obstruction of the investigation.
Mr Robert Mueller's probe has taken a new turn after the publication of questions he seeks to ask President Donald Trump, which cover topics including potential obstruction of the investigation.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Mueller may compel President to testify before grand jury if he won't be interviewed

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump yesterday called an investigation into possible obstruction of justice a "setup & trap" in a defiant morning tweet in which he once again asserted that there was no wrongdoing to be uncovered in the special counsel probe.

Mr Trump's tweet came amid negotiations between his lawyers and special counsel Robert Mueller over whether the President will consent to an interview as part of the probe of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election. In March, Mr Mueller warned during a meeting with Mr Trump's lawyers that he could issue a subpoena for the President to appear before a grand jury, according to four people familiar with the encounter.

"There was no Collusion (it is a Hoax) and there is no Obstruction of Justice (that is a setup & trap)," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter yesterday morning, again calling the investigation a "Witch Hunt!"

Two US officials on Tuesday said Mr Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, believes he has legal standing to subpoena a sitting president, even though such a move has never been fully tested,.

Mr Trump's legal team is well aware Mr Mueller could issue a subpoena, a possibility they have calculated in their strategy on negotiating an interview, sources said.

They have discussed a possible defence against a subpoena, including citing a 1990s ruling involving president Bill Clinton that set a standard for when a President can invoke executive privilege.

Mr Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, believes he has legal standing to subpoena a sitting president, even though such a move has never been fully tested, the officials said.

Negotiations over an interview with Mr Trump have been going on since last year. Resorting to a subpoena would be risky for both sides.

It probably would lead to a prolonged legal battle and extend the timeline for Mr Mueller's probe, said former government prosecutor Harry Sandick.

Mr Trump could bring his own lawyers to a voluntary interview, but not to the grand jury, one possible point of leverage for Mr Mueller in the negotiations.

The President and his lawyers could threaten to litigate the question of whether a grand jury subpoena against him could be enforced, Mr Sandick said.

The probe has taken a new turn after the publication of questions Mr Mueller seeks to ask the President, which cover topics including potential obstruction.

Mr Trump lashed out on Tuesday at the "disgraceful" disclosure of the queries, first reported by The New York Times, which lay out detailed lines of inquiry by Mr Mueller into whether Mr Trump may have tried to obstruct the Russia probe.

The New York Times said the questions were read by the investigators to the President's lawyers, who compiled them into a list.

The questions - at least four dozen in all - also show Mr Mueller wants to find out what Mr Trump knew about connections between members of his presidential campaign and Russia. Some of Mr Trump's advisers have counselled that he could risk being accused of perjury if he submits to open-ended questioning from Mr Mueller and provides meandering answers.

Earlier this week, Mr Trump suggested on Twitter that he would not be vulnerable to obstruction charges if there were no coordination between his campaign and Russia. "It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!" he wrote.

But that, many legal experts have said, is a misunderstanding of the law, as people can be charged by prosecutors with obstruction of justice even if no underlying crime is proven.

WASHINGTON POST, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2018, with the headline 'Special counsel could subpoena Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe