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Trump’s Lawyers, in Confidential Memo, Argue to Head Off a Historic Subpoena

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By Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage and Matt Apuzzo
June 2, 2018


WASHINGTON — "President Trump’s lawyers have for months quietly waged a campaign to keep the special counsel from trying to force him to answer questions in the investigation into whether he obstructed justice, asserting that he cannot be compelled to testify and arguing in a confidential letter that he could not possibly have committed obstruction because he has unfettered authority over all federal investigations.

In a brash assertion of presidential power, the 20-page letter — sent to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and obtained by The New York Times — contends that the president cannot illegally obstruct any aspect of the investigation into Russia’s election meddling because the Constitution empowers him to, “if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon.”

[Read the Trump lawyers’ confidential memo to Mr. Mueller here.]

Mr. Trump’s lawyers fear that if he answers questions, either voluntarily or in front of a grand jury, he risks exposing himself to accusations of lying to investigators, a potential crime or impeachable offense.

Mr. Trump’s broad interpretation of executive authority is novel and is likely to be tested if a court battle ensues over whether he could be ordered to answer questions. It is unclear how that fight, should the case reach that point, would play out. A spokesman for Mr. Mueller declined to comment.

“We don’t know what the law is on the intersection between the obstruction statutes and the president exercising his constitutional power to supervise an investigation in the Justice Department,” said Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor who oversaw the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration. “It’s an open question.”

Hand-delivered to the special counsel’s office in January and written by two of the president’s lawyers at the time, John M. Dowd and Jay A. Sekulow, the letter offers a rare glimpse into one side of the high-stakes negotiations over a presidential interview.

Though it is written as a defense of the president, the letter recalls the tangled drama of early 2017 as the new administration dealt with the Russia investigation. It also serves as a reminder that in weighing an obstruction case, Mr. Mueller is reviewing actions and conversations involving senior White House officials, including the president, the vice president and the White House counsel.

The letter also lays out a series of claims that foreshadow a potential subpoena fight that could unfold in the months leading into November’s midterm elections.

“We are reminded of our duty to protect the president and his office,” the lawyers wrote, making their case that Mr. Mueller has the information he needs from tens of thousands of pages of documents they provided and testimony by other witnesses, obviating the necessity for a presidential interview.

Mr. Mueller has told the president’s lawyers that he needs to talk to their client to determine whether he had criminal intent to obstruct the investigation into his associates’ possible links to Russia’s election interference. If Mr. Trump refuses to be questioned, Mr. Mueller will have to weigh their arguments while deciding whether to press ahead with a historic grand jury subpoena.

Mr. Mueller had raised the prospect of subpoenaing Mr. Trump to Mr. Dowd in March. Emmet T. Flood, the White House lawyer for the special counsel investigation, is preparing for that possibility, according to the president’s lead lawyer in the case, Rudolph W. Giuliani..."

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/02/us/politics/trump-lawyers-memo-mueller-subpoena.html

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