President Donald Trump’s lawyers and special counsel Robert Mueller discussed a potential January 27, 2018, interview of the President before talks between the two sides stalled, sources briefed on the discussions told CNN.
The President’s legal team discussed the logistics of holding the multi-hour interview session at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, the sources said. But there’s disagreement among people involved over how close the two sides were to an agreement before the President’s team rejected the plan.
The possible date for an interview, raised at a meeting in early to mid-January, has not been previously reported. It appears to have been the only date discussed so far, according to one of the sources.
It raises the possibility that, had they moved forward, the obstruction investigation of the President could have already concluded by now. At the time, Trump claimed to be eager to sit down with Mueller. On January 24, Trump told reporters who asked about the possible interview, “I’m looking forward to it, actually.” At that same time, his attorneys were very interested in wrapping the investigation as it related to the President.
More recently, despite ongoing negotiations, the President’s legal team has come to believe an interview is unlikely. That could change, members of the legal team say, and the two sides continue to trade proposals.
The proposed January interview came amid intensifying talks at the time as Mueller pressed the President’s team for a sit-down as the only way the investigators could determine the President’s intent on actions after his inauguration.
The proposal for an interview to last about four to five hours shows how the long-running discussions have moved in fits and starts over the past months as the Trump legal team pushes for an end to the investigation.
The President’s legal team – led at the time by attorney John Dowd – eventually turned down the January date. There were disagreements among Trump’s lawyers about whether to do the interview. The team ended up formally responding on January 29 with a 20-page letter which included materials from documents the special counsel already had in its possession. The letter also raised constitutional objections to requiring the President’s testimony. According to one source, the President reviewed the letter and approved it.
The letter from Trump’s team threw a wrench into the discussions until early March. There were then two more meetings with the special counsel’s team on March 5 and March 12. At the March 5 session, according to one of the sources, Mueller made the case that only Trump himself can talk about what his intent was regarding certain actions he took after assuming the presidency, which remains the Mueller team’s position.
The verbal proposal from the special counsel included about 16 subjects Mueller’s team wanted to ask the President – including the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Russian contacts with the campaign and the firing of national security adviser Mike Flynn. Since then, the special counsel has provided more details in an effort to convince Trump’s lawyers to agree to an interview. The topics were turned into 49 questions by Trump’s lawyers.