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Trump lawyers reject interview terms sought by special counsel in Russia probe

Washington Post

President Donald Trump's legal team has rejected special counsel Robert Mueller's conditions for an interview with their client, saying they consider questioning the president about possible obstruction of justice to be legally inappropriate.

A letter from Trump's lawyers sent to Mueller around noon on Wednesday significantly lessens the possibility of a voluntary presidential interview, according to two people familiar with the discussions. The multipage response represents what Trump's lawyers expect to be their last word on Mueller's request for a sit-down interview with the president in his Russia investigation, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations.

On a live radio program Wednesday, Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow declined to elaborate on their rejection of Mueller's interview terms, but both said the special counsel should finish his probe soon.

"This should be over with by Sept. 1," Giuliani said. "We have now given him so many of the answers he has been seeking."

In a separate statement, Giuliani emphasized the information that Trump and the White House have already given to Mueller's team.

"Millions of pages of documents along with testimony from dozens of witnesses have been provided," Giuliani said. "We're restating what we have been saying for months: It is time for the Office of Special Counsel to conclude its inquiry without further delay."

Sekulow said in a statement, "We have responded in writing to the latest proposal from the Office of Special Counsel regarding its request to interview the President. It is not appropriate, at this time, to comment publicly about the content of that response."

The Trump team's letter to Mueller was first reported by The New York Times.

The letter lays out the eight months of negotiating steps and positions the Trump and Mueller teams have taken over terms for a possible interview, starting last December, one person said. In it, Trump's team repeats its argument that it would be inappropriate to question the president about acts he is constitutionally protected in carrying out as the chief executive. Mueller is examining possible efforts by Trump to thwart a criminal probe and obstruct justice.

The letter from Trump's lawyers leaves open the possibility of having Trump answer some questions in writing, according to the two people familiar with the negotiations.

They said the response also stresses public explanations Trump has already given on his decisions as president, such as his firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, who was then heading a probe looking at a Trump adviser and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Giuliani has previously said that one of his greatest concerns about an interview was exposing Trump to accusations of perjury. Giuliani has said he fears that Mueller could decide to believe Comey rather than Trump about a conversation the two men had early in Trump's term in office and then accuse Trump of lying.

In an alleged reference to the FBI's investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Comey has testified that Trump told him he hoped Comey could "let it go." Giuliani said Trump does not recall saying anything like that.

One Trump adviser said there's one way for Mueller to prove he isn't using the interview to lure Trump into a perjury trap.

"If you don't want to accuse someone of perjury, you don't need to have them answer questions under oath," the adviser said.

First published in The Washington Post

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