Perhaps this explains why Donald Trump has kept a low profile since the election. Both NBC and ABC report that the president has spent time this week working with his legal team to answer questions submitted by special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators. If so, the White House has been verrrry quiet about the decision to cooperate:
President Donald Trump is huddling with his lawyers this week to craft responses to list of written questions from special counsel Robert Mueller, sources close to the president told ABC News on Tuesday.
Trump and his legal team met on Monday in Washington, D.C., to discuss the list of questions from Mueller, and were expected to reconvene on Tuesday, the sources added.
The questions, as ABC News has previously reported, center on alleged Russian meddling during the 2016 election cycle, which Mueller is tasked with investigating. The nearly year and a half long probe by the special counsel stems from allegations of Russia coordinating with members of the Trump presidential campaign.
NBC reports that the questions will not touch on another potential land mine for Trump:
The answers will pertain only to matters relating to Russian interference in the 2016 election, not obstruction of justice, the source said.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has previously said that obstruction questions were off limits, although he was less definitive in an interview with NBC News.
The source says the president’s legal team considers questions about obstruction to be related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and therefore to infringe on the president’s power to hire and fire under Article 2 of the Constitution.
NBC points to a New York Times article from April detailing the kinds of questions Mueller proposed asking when negotiating with Trump’s legal team. At that time, the firing of Comey was definitely on the menu, as was any hinting at pardons for Michael Flynn and others. If those are now out of bounds, then Trump’s team certainly did well for themselves in striking a bargain.
Those issues might arise again anyway, though, with a new Democratic majority in the House holding subpoena power, so Trump’s hardly out of the woods on obstruction yet. However, that House process will be drenched in politics and will lack the credibility that Mueller might have given it — assuming, that is, Mueller drops it altogether. Mueller might decide that he doesn’t need Trump’s input on those issues, as much as he might like to have it.
Just the fact that Trump is answering questions at all is noteworthy, especially doing so as quietly as it seems. What changed their mind? Trump has said all along that he’d sit down with investigators, but (a) those might just have been statements of public bravado for political purposes, and (b) any attorney with more than a few hours of experience would have balked at that idea. Was Nelson Cunningham right three weeks ago when he wrote that public records indicated that Mueller had subpoenaed Trump? Surely something prompted Trump and his legal team to cooperate with an interrogation, even in writing. If so, the strategy worked.
If Trump does submit the answers to a questionnaire back to Mueller, it likely means the end is nigh — of Mueller’s probe, of course. That still leaves the question of whether a Mueller report will be made public, as well as the question of who will make that decision. Will it be Rod Rosenstein, or will it be Matt Whitaker? Or will Democrats agree to fast-track an Attorney General nominee for confirmation to deal with the situation?