President Trump’s lawyers said Tuesday that they had submitted Mr. Trump’s written answers to questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The agreement to allow Mr. Trump to provide written answers to a limited set of questions comes after months of bargaining between Mr. Trump’s attorneys and the special counsel. Mr. Mueller had sought to conduct an in-person interview with the President. Mr. Trump’s lawyers balked at that request out of fear that in such a free-wheeling format, Mr. Trump may expose himself to perjury charges.
However, answering the questions may not end the stand-off between the special counsel and the White House. Mr. Mueller may still seek an in-person interview.
“Look, we made an agreement with them that we’d agree to disagree about that,” Mr. Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani told The Washington Post. “They said, in good faith, they’d go over our questions and decide if there was still a need for one. We said, in good faith, we’d listen to them, but would be very much inclined against it.”
The dozen or so questions Mr. Trump answered cover his campaign’s interactions with Russia during the 2016 election, but do not address Mr. Trump’s conduct while in office, including allegations of obstruction of justice. That doesn’t mean that Mr. Mueller will let it go. “I can’t tell you he’s given up on obstruction,” Mr. Giuliani told Axios.
Mr. Trump’s attorneys have strongly disputed the basis for the obstruction allegations. Late last year, Mr. Trump’s former attorney John Dowd argued that a “President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.”
While Mr. Trump’s legal team has so far rebuffed Mr. Mueller’s efforts to ask Mr. Trump about his actions while in office, it is still possible that Mr. Mueller could subpoena Mr. Trump. If he were to do so, it would set off a protracted legal battle that would be all but certain to end up in the Supreme Court. Mr. Giuliani says that he believes it’s an argument they would win.
“I don’t think he has any way to compel testimony on obstruction because the argument of executive privilege would be very, very strong. It all relates to a period of time after he was president,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview with Axios.
As a rule, investigators usually interview the central figure in an investigation last. If Mr. Mueller judges Mr. Trump’s responses sufficient, the special counsel probe could wrap up very soon. If he elects to pursue an in-person interview with the President, it could go on for some time to come.