PBS NewsHour / YouTube What Robert Mueller brings to the...
PBS NewsHour / YouTube

Some might consider this entering a final phase, but if Jeff Sessions gets fired, he could become a key witness for the prosecution, so it could all change quickly.

The move represents a major development after months of negotiations and signals that the Mueller investigation could be entering a final phase with regard to the President.
The questions are focused on matters related to the investigation of possible collusion between Trump associates and Russians seeking to meddle in the 2016 election, the sources said. Trump’s lawyers are preparing written responses, in part relying on documents previously provided to the special counsel, the sources said

More amusing is that the questions are about the pre-presidential period. Trump’s other activities as POTUS* will have their own reckoning eventually even as so many are impatient to get there.

This will be interesting when it locks Trump into responses that eliminate lines of defense for that moment when they might actually subpoena Lord Dampnut. And then there’s perjury.

We might find the changing reasons for the Trump Tower meeting of 9 June 2016 and the subsequent, shifting “explanations” for the meeting. Because hasn’t it always been about Donald Trump’s concern for Russian orphans (sic) and never about money laundering, obtaining stolen information, and emoluments.

And perhaps the Michael Cohen trip to Prague might get its explanation, even as he’s just changed his party affiliation to … Democrat.

Renato Mariotti has a good tweet thread on the implications of the news that Trump’s attorney’s are answering written questions.

1/ Today @CNN reported that Trump’s attorneys are answering written questions from Mueller regarding collusion with Russia. According to @CNN, Trump’s team has still not agreed to sit down for an interview with Mueller.

2/ Typically prosecutors do *not* send written questions to a subject in lieu of an interview. The value of obtaining written answers is limited for several reasons. For one thing, they can be prepared by attorneys and carefully worded to be evasive, vague, or misleading.
3/ Oral questioning also allows agents and prosecutors to get an instant reaction from the witness. Instead of a carefully crafted written answer, they get a quick verbal response and can observe the witness’s demeanor in real time. It also allows for follow up questions.
4/ That said, this entire situation is highly unusual. Trump is the subject of a criminal investigation, which means he has potential criminal liability. Usually, defense attorneys would not let a subject of a criminal investigation be interviewed by prosecutors.
5/ If they did, they would negotiate some form of protection for his statements in advance. In other words, they would negotiate an agreement (either a proffer letter or immunity) that would limit prosecutors’ ability to use their client’s words against him later on.
6/ Whether the defense attorneys said “no” versus agreeing to an interview with protection would depend on how much jeopardy their client was in. The value of sitting for an interview would be that it could convince prosecutors not to charge the client, or to give him a deal.
7/ This situation is entirely different than the typical case. Presumably, Trump doesn’t want to take the Fifth (for political reasons), which is usually how subjects avoid an interview. But he has various legal arguments he can make in court to try to avoid an interview.
8/ Trump also may want to ask for immunity (or a proffer letter) for political reasons, because it implies that he has potentially committed a crime. But he may not need one, because Mueller likely wouldn’t indict him while he’s in office due to DOJ guidance.
9/ So what can we glean from the decision to ask written questions on collusion while negotiations are pending regarding a sit-down interview on other topics? One obvious implication is that Mueller is far enough along on collusion to pose questions to Trump.
10/ A prosecutor usually wouldn’t question a witness like Trump on a subject unless he was in the late stages of an investigation. But why settle for written questions? Two possible reasons come to mind. One is that he doesn’t think Trump has much to say on the topic anyway.
11/ A more likely reason is that he thinks that Trump won’t ever agree to an interview on this topic. Trump would likely lose a legal battle if he challenged a subpoena from Mueller, but he could always take the Fifth.
12/ If Mueller believed Trump would not sit for an interview in any event, getting written responses would still move the ball forward. Whatever position Trump took in the written responses would “lock him in” to a position.
13/ That can be helpful even if the response isn’t incriminating. For example, there might be three possible defenses to an allegation, and the response might lock Trump into one of them and foreclose the other two. That could help Mueller lock out potential lines of defense.
14/ According to @CNN, Mueller indicated that there may be follow up questions. So he could take these written responses and add more questions later or even attempt to subpoena Trump later if necessary. /end

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