The as-yet-unstoppable force of the Trump presidency and the as-yet-immovable object of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation came a little closer to each other Tuesday night. A meeting between Trump and Mueller has long loomed as a potential inflection point for the investigation, and the Washington Post reports that Mueller brought up the possibility of subpoenaing the president to testify before a grand jury during a meeting with his legal team in March.
Trump responded Wednesday morning by continuing to criticize the investigation, tweeting that it is a "setup & trap," echoing language used in a Fox News segment that aired Tuesday night.
There was no Collusion (it is a Hoax) and there is no Obstruction of Justice (that is a setup & trap). What there is is Negotiations going on with North Korea over Nuclear War, Negotiations going on with China over Trade Deficits, Negotiations on NAFTA, and much more. Witch Hunt!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2018
Trump also tweeted a quote from former U.S. Attorney Joe diGenova about the executive power of the president, once again raising suspicion that Trump may be mulling whether to make a move to end the investigation himself.
“The questions are an intrusion into the President’s Article 2 powers under the Constitution to fire any Executive Branch Employee...what the President was thinking is an outrageous.....as to the President’s unfettered power to fire anyone...” Joe Digenova, former US Attorney— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2018
The threat of a subpoena came after Trump’s team of lawyers, then led by John Dowd, insisted that the president was not obligated to speak with federal investigators. Dowd, who had long been working to prevent a meeting between Trump and Mueller, did not take kindly to the special counsel’s suggestion that he could force the president into complying. "This isn’t some game," Dowd replied, according to the Post. "You are screwing with the work of the president of the United States."
Dowd, who has since resigned because of the president's continued insistence that he would like to meet with Mueller, confirmed to the Associated Press that the special counsel did bring up the possibility of a subpoena during the March 5th meeting.
The news comes just a day after the New York Times published a leaked list of 49 questions Trump’s legal team believes Mueller might ask the president should an interview take place. The leak rankled Trump, who tweeted Tuesday that none of the questions were related to collusion – calling it a "made up, Phony crime" – despite the existence of several such questions.
So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were “leaked” to the media. No questions on Collusion. Oh, I see...you have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information. Nice!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2018
It would stand to reason that if Trump is as innocent as he says he is, he should just talk to Mueller so that the investigation can conclude as quickly as possible. Until recently, Trump seemed willing to do this, telling reporters in January that he was "looking forward" to speaking to Mueller "as soon as possible," and that he would "do it under oath, absolutely." His legal team, however, has feared Trump may incriminate himself. Following the FBI’s April 9th raid of Michael Cohen’s office and hotel room, they seem to have convinced Trump that speaking to the special counsel would not be wise. According to CNN, the raid triggered a "seismic shift" in the president’s willingness to sit down with the special counsel.
Mueller has said that Trump himself is not a target of the investigation. Should Mueller issue a subpoena – which would likely result in a protracted legal battle that could eventually reach the Supreme Court and would certainly prolong the investigation – Trump’s team, now with adviser Rudy Giuliani, seems confident they could make a case that Trump’s executive powers protect him from complying.
History, however, wouldn't exactly be on his side. In 1974, a subpoena was issued for the White House to turn over recordings of Richard Nixon’s conversations relating to Watergate. The president didn't release everything the subpoena called for, and the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the rest of the tapes needed to be provided, prompting Nixon's resignation. The only time the president himself was subpoenaed to testify came in 1998, when Kenneth Starr subpoenaed Bill Clinton to appear before a grand jury investigating the Monica Lewinsky case. The subpoena was thrown out after Clinton agreed to be interviewed at the White House voluntarily.
At this point, the prospect of Trump testifying voluntarily seems remote, as speaking to federal investigators under oath would hold the president accountable for what he says, something that has yet to happen in any consequential sense throughout his time in office.