FILE – In this April 21, 2016 file photo, attorney and former FBI Director Robert Mueller, right, arrives for a court hearing at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco. Mueller has been overseeing settlement talks with Volkswagen, the U.S. government and private lawyers. Mueller is being honored with an award from West Point. The U.S. Military Academy’s Association of Graduates will present the Thayer Award to Mueller on Thursday evening, Oct. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
The leak of a list of questions Mueller wants to ask President Trump is a sign that Mueller’s seemingly never-ending investigation in search of a crime may be getting close to a conclusion. One would think that before interviewing Trump, Mueller would have interviewed everyone else relevant to the case and is now trying to show discrepancies between Trump’s amazingly elastic memory and the memory of others in order to give his leftwing fan club the joy of claiming “obstruction.”
Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an anonymously sourced story claiming that Mueller had threatened Trump with a subpoena if he refused to submit to a “voluntary” interview.
In a tense meeting in early March with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, President Trump’s lawyers insisted he had no obligation to talk with federal investigators probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
But Mueller responded that he had another option if Trump declined: He could issue a subpoena for the president to appear before a grand jury, according to four people familiar with the encounter.
Mueller’s warning — the first time he is known to have mentioned a possible subpoena to Trump’s legal team — spurred a sharp retort from John Dowd, then the president’s lead lawyer.
“This isn’t some game,” Dowd said, according to two people with knowledge of his comments. “You are screwing with the work of the president of the United States.”
Will Trump agree to go along with an interview? I’d say the odds are quite a bit less than 50-50. It is widely reported that Trump is still incensed over Mueller using the Southern District of New York US attorney’s office as a stalking horse to get him access to Michael Cohen’s communications with Trump. (Let’s not fool ourselves here and think Cohen was subjected to a no-notice raid of his home, office, and residence because of some bullsh** back tax due on taxi medallions or any other financial wizardry he may have been involved in.) And this tweet by Trump is probably a solid indication of the direction he’s going in part because he’s pissed at Mueller and in part because he’s read the polls and thinks a fight with Mueller will be politically profitable.
“The questions are an intrusion into the President’s Article 2 powers under the Constitution to fire any Executive Branch Employee…what the President was thinking is an outrageous…..as to the President’s unfettered power to fire anyone…” Joe Digenova, former US Attorney
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2018
It is also an open question whether Mueller even has that authority. Department of Justice regulations say that a sitting president can’t be indicted. So if Trump just refused to comply with the subpoena, Mueller would have damned little recourse. Trump might even think the blatant defiance was a win…and he might be right.
And Mueller is not a special counsel in the mold of Ken Starr. He’s a temp employee of the Department of Justice. He’s supervised (hahaha) by Rod Rosenstein who would certainly have to sign off on anything as extraordinary as a subpoena issued to the President. If Rosenstein did that, his tenure could be measured in nanoseconds.
More to the point, if the leaked questions are in any way accurate, they are simply inappropriate. There is no reason on earth why any president should have to explain to anyone his rationale for firing people or for his policy preferences or reveal his feeling about particular people. That is just fodder for leaks.
Mueller may get his interview, but you can bet it probably will not be a multi-hour, under oath session.