The NY Times is reporting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has sent Trump’s lawyers a letter in which he agrees to accept written answers to questions about collusion with Russia:
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, will accept written answers from President Trump on questions about whether his campaign conspired with Russia’s election interference, Mr. Mueller’s office told Mr. Trump’s lawyers in a letter, two people briefed on it said on Tuesday.
But on another significant aspect of the investigation — whether the president tried to obstruct the inquiry itself — Mr. Mueller and his investigators understood that issues of executive privilege could complicate their pursuit of a presidential interview and did not ask for written responses on that matter, according to the letter, which was sent on Friday.
Mr. Mueller did not say that he was giving up on an interview altogether, including on questions of obstruction of justice. But the tone of the letter and the fact that the special counsel did not ask for written responses on obstruction prompted some Trump allies to conclude that if an interview takes place, its scope will be more limited than Mr. Trump’s legal team initially believed, the people said.
The best sign that this is good news for the president is that Rep. Adam Schiff seems to think this is a bad deal for the prosecutors. Video of Schiff’s appearance is posted here but hasn’t turned up on YouTube yet. “Written answers to questions are of very limited value,” Schiff said. He added, “If this is being done in the hope that the President’s legal team will later make him accessible for an interview, I wouldn’t make a deal on written questions until I had a locked in commitment on an oral interview.”
But the bigger news here may be that Mueller seems to be giving up on an interview on the obstruction issue. Does that mean this part of the case will conclude without any input from Trump? It’s a little hard to tell from the NY Times story, but that’s how it sounds.
Last month, CNN’s Evan Perez reported (video below) that Mueller had offered to limit the number of questions Trump would be asked on the topic of obstruction, but those questions would still be part of a face-to-face interview. At the time, Trump’s attorneys were floating what Perez called a “take-home test,” i.e. written answers of the kind that Mueller just said he would accept. If that’s true, then the current deal is a significant move in Trump’s direction. The catch, of course, is that it’s not clear a face-to-face interview is off the table for good. Maybe this is just the next step and Mueller’s team will change their minds again next month.
Here’s the CNN report on negotiations between Mueller and the White House from last month: