President Trump’s lawyers on Wednesday continued to parry with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on his request for an interview, further prolonging negotiations after months in which Trump’s team has tried to limit the scope of potential questions.
"We have responded in writing to the latest proposal from the Office of Special Counsel regarding its request to interview the president,” said Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, in a statement. “It is not appropriate, at this time, to comment publicly about the content of that response."
The latest exchange provided another opportunity for Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is also representing the president, to call on Mueller to start bringing his investigation to a close.
"Millions of pages of documents along with testimony from dozens of witnesses have been provided,” Giuliani said in a statement. “We're re-stating what we have been saying for months: it is time for the Office of Special Counsel to conclude its inquiry without further delay."
Mueller was appointed in May 2017 to investigate Russia’s 2016 election interference and whether anyone from Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russians. He’s also been examining whether Trump obstructed justice by interfering with the probe.
The back-and-forth over an interview has dragged on for months, and the latest letter from Trump’s team is unlikely to resolve the issue.
Sekulow described the exchange on his syndicated radio show on Wednesday.
"That will be our response. And then they'll respond back,” he said. "We'll see how this develops in the days ahead."
After a meeting with prosecutors earlier this year, Trump’s lawyers drafted a list of roughly four dozen potential questions the president could be asked.
Many of the queries were related to whether Trump obstructed justice, such as, "What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?" That was a reference to Trump’s remark to Russian diplomats a day after he fired FBI Director James B. Comey, who previously oversaw the Russia probe.
Those types of questions have been a sticking point for Trump and his allies.
“The legal team and the president have been saying and believe that obstruction isn’t the focus and shouldn’t be part of this,” said a friend of the president’s who recently spoke with him. The friend requested anonymity to describe a private conversation.
About one-quarter of the questions on the list focused on what the president knew about Russia's efforts to interfere with the campaign.
One question — "When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?" — references the June 2016 gathering that Donald Trump Jr., the president's elder son, hosted with a Kremlin-linked lawyer who was said to have incriminating information on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
The president has consistently denied having prior knowledge of the meeting, but his story has shifted before. When the meeting was revealed last year, he helped draft a statement from his son saying the discussion was focused on adoption policy.
But on Sunday he tweeted unambiguously that the meeting was “to get information on an opponent,” something he defended as “totally legal and done all the time in politics.”
Despite Trump’s defense, U.S. law prohibits foreign nationals from making contributions to political campaigns here, which includes donations and other things of value, such as opposition research.
Trump’s shifting stories could spell trouble for him in a conversation with prosecutors.
Trump has long waffled on granting an interview. Last year he said he would be “100%” willing to testify under oath. He backed off in January, saying an interview may not be necessary.
"When they have no collusion, and nobody has found any collusion, at any level, it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview," Trump said.
In May, the president said he would sit down with prosecutors if he thought he would be “treated fairly” despite advice from his lawyers not to speak. “If I thought it was fair," Trump said, "I would override my lawyers."
The president’s friend said Trump is more confident than his lawyers in his ability to handle an interview.
“Trump thinks he can go in and just clear things up,” the friend said, adding, “Trump believes in his ability to charm and persuade in person.”
Times staff writer Eli Stokols contributed to this report.