WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s lawyers rejected the special counsel’s latest terms for an interview in the Russia investigation, countering Wednesday with an offer that suggested a narrow path for answering questions, people familiar with the matter said.
Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, confirmed that a response was sent but declined to comment on its content. The president’s lead lawyer in the case, Rudy Giuliani, noted the documents that the White House has already provided and said, “We’re restating what we have been saying for months: It is time for the Office of Special Counsel to conclude its inquiry without further delay.”
The letter marked the latest back and forth in the eight months of negotiations between Trump’s lawyers and the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Last week, Mueller proposed a slightly altered format to the expansive interview he wants to conduct with the president.
Trump’s lawyers did not reject an interview outright but included the narrower counteroffer, one person familiar with the response said. However, the person said that Trump’s lawyers did not want him answering questions about whether he obstructed justice.
The response indicated how far apart the two sides remain.
The special counsel could eventually take the extraordinary step of subpoenaing Trump to testify before a grand jury to compel him to answer questions. Only one president, Bill Clinton, has been subpoenaed while in office; he eventually agreed to a voluntary interview to avoid a prolonged court fight.
The negotiations have dragged on in part because the president’s lawyers are concerned that if he is interviewed, Trump could perjure himself. They had been prepared last week to tell Mueller that Trump would decline an interview, but the president, who believes he can convince Mueller that he is innocent, pushed his lawyers to continue negotiating.
By making another counterproposal after months of promises that they were just weeks away from deciding about an interview, Trump’s lawyers run the risk that Mueller could conclude they are negotiating in bad faith to prolong the investigation. In a meeting with Trump’s lawyers this year, Mueller threatened to subpoena the president if he did not sit for a voluntary interview.
Law enforcement officials who have worked with Mueller, a longtime federal prosecutor and the head of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, believe that he will try to use every tool he has to get the president to answer questions and that he will probably subpoena him to testify if he does not agree to be questioned voluntarily.
Some of Trump’s lawyers believe that Mueller will not subpoena their client out of fear of losing a court fight that could undermine the investigation’s legitimacy to the public.
The president’s lawyers have said they would fight a subpoena — a battle that could eventually be decided by the Supreme Court.