Robert Mueller To Trump’s Lawyers: President Is Still Under Investigation, But Is Not Yet A Criminal Target
Special counsel Robert Mueller told Donald Trump’s lawyers last month that his investigation of the president and his campaign staff’s ties to Russia will go on, although Trump is not currently being viewed as a criminal target.
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On Twitter last month, Trump slammed Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Trump has also stated he is prepared to sit down with the special counsel for an interview, although the president’s attorneys have cautioned him to treat the investigation very seriously.
Mueller also reportedly informed Trump’s legal team that he is looking into whether or not the president committed obstruction of justice at any point (by attempting to end the Russian interference investigation).
There has been a mixed reaction from White House advisers regarding whether or not Trump could be formally charged. Some seem unconcerned, while others have pointed out that subjects of probes can easily become indicted targets.
John Dowd — Trump’s top lawyer handling the Mueller investigation — resigned last month, citing his frustration with the president’s repeated refusal to heed his advice on many things, including advice to refuse the special counsel’s request for an interview.
Many of Trump’s other lawyers, even White House attorney Ty Cobb, have declined to comment in detail on the status of the probe.
Special counsel regulations dictate that Mueller must report his findings confidentially to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who holds the authority to determine whether to release the information publicly.
“They’ve said they want to write a report on this — to answer the public’s questions — and they need the president’s interview as the last step,” one person with knowledge of the talks said of Mueller’s team.
Trump’s lawyers have also said they expect the president to be asked what he knew about any contacts by his associates with Russian officials in 2016.
The president has reportedly told his associates several times that he believes an interview with Mueller will help him finish the investigation once and for all.
However, legal experts state Mueller’s description of Trump as a “subject” of a grand jury investigation does not mean the president has no chance of facing more legal troubles.
“If I were the president, I would be very reluctant to think I’m off the hook,” Keith Whittington, a professor of politics at Princeton University and impeachment expert, told the Washington Post.
“My sense of it is the president — given that information — ought to have pretty fair warning anything he’s saying in the deposition would be legally consequential. Depending on what he says, it could wind up changing how the special counsel is thinking about him.”
Experts have also said that if the special counsel finds Trump to have engaged in criminal behavior, then Congress would be free to decide whether to begin impeachment proceedings.
“The president’s personal risk is primarily on the impeachment front,” Whittington said. “Even if there are not things that lead to indictment, there may be matters that warrant an impeachment investigation and proceedings.”
There has been speculation that Trump might fire Mueller, despite the recommendations from several lawmakers — including Republicans — that he not do this. In May, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey after Comey told Congress that the bureau was investigating potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Trump also asked top intelligence officials to release public statements denying the existence of proof of collusion between his campaign and Russian government officials.
On Tuesday, Dutch lawyer Alexander Van Der Zwaan became the first person sentenced to jail in Mueller’s probe. Van Der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in prison for lying about his contacts with Rick Gates, a former Trump aide accused of transferring millions of dollars from offshore accounts and lying to FBI officials about the matter.
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