President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has set some unusual ground rules for a proposed meeting with Special Counsel Robert Mueller: you can ask the president whatever you want, but don’t mention obstruction.
The odd mandate comes as Mueller attempts to arrange a sit-down interview with Trump, in connection with his ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and allegations of obstruction against the president and his associates.
According to Axios, which spoke with Giuliani this week, “There are two topics the president’s lawyers want to rule out in order to agree to a Trump sit-down with Mueller: Why Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, [and] what Trump said to Comey about the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.”
As the outlet notes, Giuliani suggested the two areas of exclusion as if they were extraneous details, unconnected with the special counsel’s investigation. In reality, questions about Comey and Flynn are the crux of Mueller’s entire probe into allegations of presidential obstruction.
Flynn is one of three Trump associates who have pleaded guilty in connection with the Mueller probe over the past year. In February last year, after serving as both an adviser to the Trump campaign and as national security adviser, he was forced to resign his post in the administration after 24 days, after it was revealed he had illegally met with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to discuss U.S. sanctions on the country in December 2016 and later lied about it to Vice President Mike Pence.
One day after Flynn resigned, Trump met with then-FBI Director Comey to discuss Flynn, whose communications with Kislyak were being investigated by the bureau as part of a larger investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and allegations of collusion between top Trump associates and Russian officials. During that meeting, Trump allegedly asked Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, calling Flynn a “good guy.”
The FBI, however, did not drop its investigation into Flynn, and on May 9, 2017, Trump summarily fired Comey, claiming he had done so because the FBI had lost faith in the director.
One week later, Mueller was appointed to lead a special inquiry into the matter, eventually charging Flynn with lying to investigators about his conversations with Kislyak and opening a probe into Trump’s reasoning for Comey’s dismissal. Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the FBI in December, agreeing to cooperate with Mueller’s team in exchange for a lesser sentence.
Trump and his lawyers have long maintained the president did nothing wrong in firing Comey and have swatted down allegations he did so to hinder the Justice Department’s probe into potential Russian collusion. He has also repeatedly insisted Mueller’s subsequent investigation is a witch-hunt.
The president has also waffled on the idea of a sit-down interview with Mueller, publicly declaring on several occasions that he would would “love to speak” with the special counsel, only to reverse course later.
Giuliani’s latest interview demands are the latest in a line of aggressive requests by the president’s legal team. In late May, Giuliani told the Washington Post that Trump would not agree to meet with Mueller unless lawyers could review documents related to the FBI’s “use of a source to interact with members of Trump’s 2016 campaign.”
“We need all the documents before we can decide whether we are going to do an interview,” he said. “[We won’t make plans] until they [the FBI] decide whether they are going to give us the documents or not.”
A report by The New York Times in February also suggested the president’s legal team had recommended against a sit-down between Trump and Mueller. According to people briefed on the matter, lawyers were reportedly “concerned that the president, who has a history of making false statements and contradicting himself, could be charged with lying to investigators.”