Two confidential letters from President Donald Trump’s legal team to special counsel Robert Mueller were leaked to The New York Times. The newspaper published both letters in full on Saturday.
In the letters dated June 23, 2017, and Jan. 29, 2018, Trump’s legal team presents a barrage of arguments and precedents for why Trump does not have to agree to an interview with Mueller. The extensive rationale, presented over the course of more than 20 pages in the most recent letter, amounts to a legal knockout punch to Mueller’s obstruction and collusion investigations.
Trump mentioned the leak in a Twitter message on Saturday while blasting the investigation.
“There was no collusion with Russia (except by the Democrats). When will this very expensive witch hunt hoax ever end?” Trump wrote in a tweet. “So bad for our country. Is the special counsel/Justice Department leaking my lawyers letters to the fake news media? Should be looking at Dems corruption instead?”
As only one of two people left who could become President, why wouldn’t the FBI or Department of “Justice” have told me that they were secretly investigating Paul Manafort (on charges that were 10 years old and had been previously dropped) during my campaign? Should have told me!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 3, 2018
The lawyers emphasize that Trump had already gone beyond what is legally required of him and had waived the executive communications privilege in order to exhaustively satisfy Mueller’s queries. This fact is coupled with a legal protection that makes the president not readily available to be interviewed unless the information cannot be obtained by any other means.
“The records and testimony we have, pursuant to the President’s directive, already voluntarily provided to your office, allow you to delve into the conversations and actions that occurred in a significant and exhaustive manner, including but not limited to the testimony of the President’s interlocutors themselves,” the Jan. 28, 2018, letter states. “In light of these voluntary offerings, your office clearly lacks the requisite need to personally interview the President.”
Mueller’s investigation originally focused on allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but over the past 12 months, the scope expanded to include unrelated charges against Trump campaign associates.
Mueller took over an existing FBI counterintelligence investigation last year. The roots of that probe have been under intense scrutiny, after recent revelations that the FBI used at least one spy to infiltrate Trump’s campaign well before the investigation officially started. The FBI also used an unverified dossier funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee in order to obtain warrants to surveil Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page.
With regard to the president himself, the special counsel shifted focus from investigating collusion to an inquiry into whether Trump obstructed justice in several steps he took as president. Central among these is Trump’s alleged rhetoric about the investigation of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
Before delving into a detailed discussion of questions raised by Mueller, Trump’s legal team points out that as the chief law enforcement officer in the nation, he has the power to terminate investigations and to pardon as he sees fit. Trump decided to let Mueller’s probe go forward for the sake of transparency, the lawyers say.
“Nevertheless, the President’s strong desire for transparency indicated the need to obtain an honest and complete factual report from the Special Counsel, which would sustain and even benefit the Office of the President and the national interest throughout his time in office,” the letter states. “Thus, full cooperation was in order, and was in fact provided by all relevant parties.”
Mueller’s questions for Trump suggest that he is attempting to ascertain whether Trump obstructed justice by allegedly telling Comey that he “hoped” that Comey would let Flynn go. The account of the conversation is based on memos Comey leaked to the media after being fired. The White House denies that Trump said what Comey alleges.
Additionally, the legal team presented a list of eight reasons for why the president does not have to be interviewed in regards to the matter. Key among these is the fact that Trump has the right to offer his opinion on any investigation as part of his role as the top law enforcement official in the United States.
The legal team also points out that the investigation against Flynn proceeded unimpeded and resulted in an indictment, despite Trump’s alleged comments. In addition, the letter states that Trump was under the impression, based on statements by the FBI and Comey, that there was no investigation to obstruct.
The special counsel’s questions about the firing of Comey suggest that the investigators are attempting to determine whether Trump fired Comey in order to obstruct the Russia investigation.
Trump’s lawyers precede their arguments for why Trump should not be interviewed in regards to Comey’s firing by pointing out that the president acted within the authority granted to him by the Constitution.
“As you know, and as Mr. Comey himself has acknowledged, a President can fire an FBI Director at any time and for any reason,” the attorneys wrote. “No President has ever faced charges of obstruction merely for exercising his constitutional authority. A President can also order the termination of an investigation by the Justice Department or FBI at any time and for any reason.”
Trump has stated that Comey was fired for his incompetence in handling the Clinton email investigation.
The letter states that the president’s comments in an NBC interview have been “widely misreported and mischaracterized” to give the impression that he was thinking of Russia when he fired Comey. The attorneys then present the relevant interview transcript in its entirety to show that Trump knew that the Russia investigation would likely be protracted if he fired Comey, but that he had “to do the right thing for the American people. [Comey is] the wrong man for that position.”
The lawyers conclude the letter by offering to answer questions from Mueller in written form.
“We are prepared to meet to discuss a final list of questions that you need to be answered so that the Nation may move forward, and so that we may preserve the dignity of the Office of the President of the United States,” the letter states.
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