Mueller to Trump: No written interview ... for now

If Donald Trump wants to clear the air with Robert Mueller, he’ll have to do it in person, according to two different media reports this morning. The special counsel has rejected a proposal from Trump’s legal team to present questions in writing for the president, setting up a potential showdown over a presidential subpoena. Politico notes that this might not be final, however:

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has rejected the idea that President Donald Trump be allowed to answer questions in writing, according to a source familiar with the process, who also cautioned that it “doesn’t mean the last chapter’s been written on that.”

Mueller, who is overseeing the sprawling investigation into whether Trump campaign aides colluded with Russians to influence the 2016 election and into whether Trump obstructed justice, has been in talks with the president’s lawyers for months about the format of a potential interview.

Who was the “source familiar with the process”? The same one having trouble staying off the TV, most likely:

Has there been any attorney less discreet than Rudy Giuliani? Not even Michael Avenatti has been quite as free about sharing his client’s negotiations and bargaining positions. Giuliani spent his time yesterday afternoon talking with Politico’s team about the case and his approach to it, suggesting that Mueller’s looking for ways to bring the probe to a close quickly:

In a conversation with POLITICO on Monday afternoon, Rudy Giuliani, who recently joined Trump’s outside group of lawyers, said Mueller’s team and Trump’s lawyers were still far apart on the negotiations for an interview. “We both have issues we want to resolve,” the former New York mayor said. …

Timing is also wearing on Mueller, Giuliani said. “I think he’s getting sensitive to the fact they’ve gone on a little bit too long,” he said. “He’s certainly getting a certain degree of questioning about that. I’m not so concerned about that as I am about let’s see some kind of road to a close.”

If that was the case, though, wouldn’t Mueller have taken up Giuliani’s offer for a written interview? Mueller doesn’t actually have any time pressures; special counsel probes continue until either the special counsel finishes it or the controlling authority withdraws its jurisdiction on the case. Some special counsels have gone on for years, and without producing much.

Mueller hasn’t produced much on his own yet, either. Except for a handful of guilty pleas on obstruction charges, Manafort has produced only two substantial indictments. One, against a set of Russian operatives and entities, is unlikely to ever see the inside of a courtroom. The other Mueller revived from the Department of Justice’s probe of Paul Manafort from years ago, which has nothing to do with alleged Russian collusion. The Manafort indictment might still be at risk, depending on how Judge T.S. Ellis rules on a defense motion to dismiss based on a lack of jurisdiction.

If Mueller wanted to exit, all he needs to do is claim that he’s investigated as far as the law allows and hasn’t found anything to charge. His decision to take a pass on a written interrogatory signals that he isn’t looking for a way to the exit. He’s looking for a way to succeed in his prosecutorial efforts and justify the hardball tactics he’s employed so far. That’s why we’re probably heading to a showdown over a subpoena rather than a graceful conclusion.

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