Trump says he would speak to Mueller under oath in Russia probe

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President Trump said Wednesday that he plans to speak with special counsel Robert Mueller, laying the groundwork for a high-stakes meeting that could shape the course of the Russia investigation.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked whether he would submit to questioning by Mueller’s team.

“I would do it under oath,” he added.

Trump has ridiculed the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” but the White House has sought to comply with the special counsel’s requests in hopes that the investigation will wrap soon and clear the president of wrongdoing.

Trump said he expects to speak with Mueller in two to three weeks but cautioned the specifics are being worked out by his lawyers.

Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer leading the response to the probe, told The Hill Trump was speaking in a rush before departing for Davos but stressed that he remains committed to continued complete cooperation with Mueller’s office and looks forward to an interview with Mueller’s team.
Cobb said arrangements are still being worked out between the special counsel’s office and Trump’s personal attorneys.

Trump said he was willing to talk because of his belief there was “no collusion” between members of his campaign and Moscow.  

“I couldn’t have cared less about Russians having to do with my campaign. The fact is — you people won’t say this but I’ll say it — I was a much better candidate than her,” Trump said, referring to Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent.
Trump defended his constant attacks against the investigation, saying they have been unfairly described as possible criminal wrongdoing. 
“You fight back, oh, it’s obstruction,” Trump mockingly told reporters.

The president’s remarks come at a time when Mueller’s investigation has expanded to members of Trump’s Cabinet. The special counsel’s office interviewed Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week.

“I’m not at all concerned,” Trump said Tuesday about Sessions’s testimony.

Sessions is uniquely positioned within Trump’s inner circle.

The former Alabama senator first acted as a high-profile campaign surrogate and strategist. As attorney general, he recused himself from the Russia investigation for failing to reveal contacts he had with a Russian diplomat during the campaign, paving the way for Mueller’s appointment.

And Sessions was overseeing the Justice Department when Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey. Trump has offered conflicting public statements about why he fired Comey; critics say he did it an effort to end the investigation into his campaign, which some believe is tantamount to obstruction of justice.

Mueller is likely to quiz Trump on the circumstances surrounding Comey’s firing.

The special counsel has already interviewed Comey, as well as former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

So far, Mueller’s investigation has resulted in two guilty pleas as well as a raft of charges against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

The president’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with the special counsel. So too is George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser who also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Manafort and Richard Gates, one of Manafort’s associates and a member of the Trump campaign, face scores of charges related to alleged financial crimes before joining the Trump campaign. 

The special counsel probe has cast a shadow over Trump’s first year in office. While interviews with senior officials could indicate the investigation is nearing the end, the meeting with Mueller presents enormous risks for Trump.

The central danger is that making false statements to the FBI is a federal crime. Legal experts have said the president’s lawyers are likely to be pushing for certain parameters to limit the interview, such as asking that it be limited in its scope of questioning. 

Trump has in the past made exaggerated claims or falsehoods during legal depositions. The Washington Post found 30 occasions on which Trump admitted to making false statements during a single deposition in 2007. 

“This is a president who has a rather casual relationship with the truth,” Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor, recently told The Hill. “And if prior practice is any indication, has a casual relationship with norms of discourse.”

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, a bitter fight has broken out, with Republicans accusing the FBI of political bias and claiming that the investigation against Trump was tainted from the start.

Defenders of the FBI are furious with Trump’s allies for questioning the credibility of the nation’s premier law enforcement agency.

That fight took another nasty turn this week when The Washington Post reported that Trump had asked FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe who he voted for in a private meeting after McCabe became acting FBI director in May.

Trump on Wednesday said he did not recall that conversation.

“I don’t think so,” Trump said. “I don’t remember asking that question.” 

Whether he did ask the question or not, Trump called it “unimportant.” 

The interaction, which reportedly took place last year, could be of interest to Mueller, who is looking into whether the president sought to obstruct the federal probe into Russia’s election meddling. 

Comey testified to Congress that, while he was still FBI director, Trump had asked him about McCabe in a phone conversation.

“He asked me about McCabe and said, how is he going to be with me as president? I was rough on him on the campaign trail,” Comey said.

McCabe’s wife ran for Virginia state Senate and received campaign contributions from Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat close to the Clintons.

Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report, which was updated at 6:41 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Federal Bureau of Investigation George Papadopoulos Hillary Clinton James Comey James Comey Jeff Sessions Michael Flynn Paul Manafort Robert Mueller Robert Mueller Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections Sally Yates Special Counsel investigation United States

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