Special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly informed Donald Trump’s lawyers last month that Trump is still under investigation but that he is not currently considered “a criminal target at this point.” The Washington Post writes:
In private negotiations in early March about a possible presidential interview, Mueller described Trump as a subject of his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Prosecutors view someone as a subject when that person has engaged in conduct that is under investigation but there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges.
The special counsel also told Trump’s lawyers that he is preparing a report about the president’s actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice, according to two people with knowledge of the conversations.
Mueller reiterated the need to interview Trump — both to understand whether he had any corrupt intent to thwart the Russia investigation and to complete this portion of his probe, the people said.
This appears to be somewhat of a negotiating tactic Mueller is using to potentially get Trump to the table for an interview. On MSNBC, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti suggested the distinction between being a “subject” and a “target” didn’t mean all that much in terms of Trump’s legal exposures. (He has an explainer thread here.)
“A lot of the criminal defense attorneys say on the federal side that a non-target letter isn’t worth the paper that it’s printed on,” Mariotti said.”All it means is that the investigation hasn’t wrapped up yet.”
Additionally, lawfareblog.com editor Benjamin Wittes observed on MSNBC that the most important part of the story wasn’t the subject/target distinction, but the revelation that Mueller is preparing a report about Trump’s conduct in office.
Alas, the news appears to have caused heated debate among Trump’s advisers.
Mueller’s description of the president’s status has sparked friction within Trump’s inner circle as his advisers have debated his legal standing. The president and some of his allies seized on the special counsel’s words as an assurance that Trump’s risk of criminal jeopardy is low. Other advisers, however, noted that subjects of investigations can easily become indicted targets — and expressed concern that the special prosecutor was baiting Trump into an interview that could put the president in greater legal peril.
Too bad Trump’s attorneys aren’t exactly the “A” team of defense representation. And neither is Trump.
The president has privately expressed relief at the description of his legal status, which has increased his determination to agree to a special counsel interview, the people said. He has repeatedly told allies that he is not a target of the probe and believes an interview will help him put the matter behind him, friends said.