Russia inquiry

Trump 'eager to be interviewed' by special counsel

US leader insists there is no collusion with Moscow, looks forward to Mueller inquiry

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump says that he is willing and eager to be interviewed by Mr Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, insisting that he has done nothing wrong.

"I'm looking forward to it, actually," Mr Trump said on Wednesday of talking to Mr Mueller, answering months of speculation over whether he was willing to submit to questions from the special counsel, who is also believed to be looking into whether the Trump campaign aided Moscow's effort and whether the President sought to thwart the inquiry itself.

"Here's the story, just so you understand," Mr Trump said during an impromptu question-and-answer session with reporters in the West Wing. "There's been no collusion whatsoever. There's no obstruction whatsoever, and I'm looking forward to it."

Mr Trump suggested that his efforts to defend himself against damaging allegations had been unfairly misinterpreted as wrongdoing. "You fight back," he said, and such a response is characterised as, "'Oh, it's obstruction.'"

Asked when an interview could happen, Mr Trump replied that he did not know exactly.

"Yesterday, they were talking about two or three weeks," he said. He added, however, that setting a date would be "subject to my lawyers and all of that".

It was the first time Mr Trump said directly that he would cooperate with Mr Mueller, whose investigation he has repeatedly dismissed as being based on "fake news".

EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE

He should treat Mueller like a plague... He should assert executive privilege in every opportunity he can.

MR CHRIS RUDDY, the CEO of Newsmax and a Trump confidante.

Asked if he thought Mr Mueller would treat him fairly, Mr Trump said: "We're going to find out."

The form of a Mueller interview with the President still needs to be negotiated - whether it is face-to-face, or in writing, or a mix.

While there are risks for the President in submitting to such an interview, some senior White House officials have argued that Mr Trump should do so in the interest of bringing a swift end to an investigation that has cast a shadow over his presidency.

But any interview of a United States president in an investigation is fraught with issues of executive privilege - how much and in what context the US leader can be forced to disclose information.

Among Mr Trump's friends, there is a prevailing view that he could damage himself by testifying under oath because he often misrepresents events, and that he is listening to lawyers who are not giving him good advice.

"He should treat Mueller like a plague," Mr Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and a Trump confidante, said on Wednesday.

"He should assert executive privilege in every opportunity he can."

In Mr Trump's case, it also raises deep concerns that his shoot-from-the-hip outspokenness could jeopardise his own legal position. White House lawyer Ty Cobb later seemed to walk back Mr Trump's remarks, saying the President just meant that he was willing to meet, The New York Times reported.

Mr Trump on Wednesday also denied a Washington Post report that last year he had asked then acting FBI director Andrew McCabe whom he had voted for in 2016, which, according to reports, left Mr McCabe concerned about civil servants being interrogated about their political leanings.

"I don't think so. I don't think I did. I don't know what's the big deal with that, because I would ask you," Mr Trump said to reporters.

His alleged query was an unusual and overtly political one for a discussion with a senior official in the Justice Department, which is supposed to operate independent of political influence.

NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2018, with the headline 'Trump 'eager to be interviewed' by special counsel'. Print Edition | Subscribe