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Stakes intensify: Mueller seeks to question Trump

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s office interviewed Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsBiden fact checks Trump on 545 families separated at border, calls policy 'criminal' Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump's erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House MORE last week in connection with the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and now wants to question the president.

The Sessions interview came on the heels of the special counsel’s reported questioning of fired FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Trump remarks put pressure on Barr Ex-deputy attorney general says Justice Dept. 'will ignore' Trump's threats against political rivals MORE. In another major development, The Washington Post on Tuesday afternoon reported that Mueller is looking to question President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE on his decision to fire Comey and Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser. The logistics of that interview remain unclear, as they will likely be negotiated between the special counsel and the president’s legal team. 

“Sessions may be in the single best position to either corroborate or impeach the credibility of folks that the special counsel might be looking at much more carefully,” said Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor. “The president, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Kushner friend arrested on cyberstalking charges Chris Wallace teases Sunday interview with 'bestie' Ice Cube MORE, Comey himself, who used to be Sessions’s subordinate.”

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“Sessions is not the most important person in this investigation, but he may be the one with the most connections to it,” Vladeck added.

The White House said that Comey’s firing was driven by a recommendation from the Justice Department related to the FBI’s handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBon Jovi to campaign with Biden in Pennsylvania The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Biden gets late boost with key union endorsement MORE’s use of a private email server. But Trump subsequently told NBC News’s Lester Holt that he was going to fire Comey “regardless of recommendation,” signaling that the Russia investigation figured into his decision-making.

The controversy surrounding Comey’s ouster reached a peak last June, when the former FBI director testified publicly before senators on Capitol Hill that Trump had pressed him to stop the investigation into Flynn.

Flynn resigned in February after it was revealed he lied to senior administration officials about his conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition. He cut a deal with Mueller in December and is cooperating with the special counsel after pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents about his Russia contacts.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the special counsel interviewed Comey last year, a meeting that focused on several memos written by the former FBI director chronicling his interactions with the president.

The special counsel’s office declined to comment on the reported interview with Comey.

The interview with Sessions, a Trump surrogate throughout the campaign, is a sign that Mueller’s probe is tightening on Trump’s inner circle. Sessions is the first Cabinet member known to be interviewed in connection with the probe.

Sessions is also of interest to Mueller as he explores whether there was collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, given his high-level role on the campaign and interactions with Russians.

Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation last March amid scrutiny over his contacts with Kislyak, whom he met with twice during the campaign. Sessions received blowback on Capitol Hill for failing to disclose the meetings under oath during his confirmation hearing. 

Since then, reports have emerged that Trump directed White House counsel Don McGahn to stop Sessions from recusing himself, efforts that were ultimately unsuccessful.

The Justice Department confirmed that the interview occurred last week. The interview is said to have lasted several hours.

Mueller has been given a broad mandate to probe Russian interference and any evidence of crimes arising from his investigation.

The probe has been a thorn in the side of the president, dogging his first year in office. Trump has repeatedly said there was no collusion during the campaign, describing the allegations as a “hoax” peddled by Democrats.

Meanwhile, the probe has also rankled Trump’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill, who have recently stepped up charges of political bias on Mueller’s team and at the FBI.

Trump insisted Tuesday he was not worried about what Sessions might have said during the interview, though he said he had not discussed it with the attorney general. 

“I’m not at all concerned,” Trump said.

The special counsel would only be able to compel Sessions to answer questions pursuant to a subpoena, legal experts say. Sessions is said to have voluntarily offered his testimony.

Mueller has already secured guilty pleas from Flynn and George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosNot treason, not a crime — but definitely a gross abuse of power Tale of two FBI cases: Clinton got warned, Trump got investigated Trump says he would consider pardons for those implicated in Mueller investigation MORE, a low-level campaign foreign policy adviser who admitted to lying to investigators about his Russia contacts.

Mueller has also indicted former campaign aides Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDOJ veteran says he's quitting over Barr's 'slavish obedience' to Trump Bruce Ohr retires from DOJ Don't forget: The Trump campaign gave its most sensitive data to a Russian spy MORE and Richard Gates on charges of money laundering related to their work in Europe. 

Sessions admitted to lawmakers in November that he recalled a 2016 interaction with Papadopoulos about the adviser’s efforts to broker a meeting between the campaign and Russian officials, but said he did not remember it until reviewing Papadopoulos’s account.  

“I think a lot of it is going to be establishing timelines. Who knew what when,” Vladeck said. “Who was in the room when various conversations took place.”

Jordan Fabian contributed.