President Donald Trump’s lawyers argued in a confidential January letter to special counsel Robert Mueller that the President cannot illegally obstruct the Russia probe because he, as the top law enforcement officer, has authority over all federal investigations, The New York Times reported Saturday.
The 20-page letter from Trump attorney Jay Sekulow and then-Trump lawyer John Dowd, which CNN reported on last week and the Times has obtained, says that Trump could not possibly have committed obstruction in the Russia investigation because the Constitution empowers him to “terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.”
Trump’s “actions here, by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer, could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself,” Dowd and Sekulow wrote.
The two argued that “no President has ever faced charges of obstruction merely for exercising his constitutional authority” and that a President can “order the termination” of a Justice Department or FBI investigation “at any time and for any reason.”
Trump’s lawyers sent the letter as part of a broader argument that the President should not have to sit down with the special counsel.
Citing records handed over to the special counsel and interviews Mueller’s team has had with White House staff, Sekulow and Dowd wrote in the letter, “In light of these voluntary offerings, your office clearly lacks the requisite need to personally interview the President.”
Members of Trump’s legal team had disagreed about whether to do the interview, and the team ended up formally responding on January 29 with the letter, which included materials from documents the special counsel already had in its possession and contained constitutional objections to requiring the President’s testimony, CNN reported, citing sources briefed on discussions. According to one source, Trump reviewed the letter and approved it.
The letter from Trump’s team threw a wrench into the discussions until early March, CNN reported. 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.
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment to the Times.
In multiple letters sent to the special counsel, Trump’s legal team has laid out its response to issues it thought the special counsel was examining in 2017 and 2018, CNN has reported. The first letter focused on what Trump’s team sees as former FBI Director James Comey’s lack of credibility as a potential witness. Sources did not provide CNN with further details of that letter.
Other communications to Mueller focused on constitutional issues regarding compelling presidential testimony, the question of whether there could even be an obstruction charge and a response to topics provided by Mueller, CNN has reported.
Dowd felt so strongly that Comey lacked credibility as a witness that he also sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggesting that he needed to take a look at Comey’s credibility before proceeding with an investigation of the President. The letter not only mentioned Comey’s conduct during the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server but also his behavior with the President. Dowd said he received a perfunctory response.
“They did nothing about it,” Dowd told CNN at the time.
Mueller has raised the possibility of a presidential subpoena, sources have told CNN, and a version of Mueller’s potential questions for the President was leaked and first published by the Times in April.
Trump has publicly said he would sit down with Mueller if he’s treated fairly, despite concerns from some people close to the President that such an interview could expose him to possible charges of perjury.
On Twitter earlier Saturday, Trump said there was no collusion with Russia and asked when the special counsel investigation, which he called a “very expensive Witch Hunt Hoax,” would conclude.
“Is the Special Counsel/Justice Department leaking my lawyers letters to the Fake News Media?” Trump wrote. “Should be looking at Dems corruption instead?”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders referred CNN to Trump’s outside counsel when asked for comment on his tweet speculating on whether the Justice Department or special counsel is the source behind the leaked correspondence between his legal team and Mueller.
CNN’s Gloria Borger, Evan Perez and Boris Sanchez contributed to this report.