President Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller have been in each other’s orbit for months, but this week they seemed closer than ever. Tension is swelling as to whether the president will allow himself to be interviewed by the man investigating Russian collusion (and possible conspiracy) with his campaign. Trump’s legal team has cautioned the president against it, in fear that the might perjure himself under oath. Trump has vaguely said on multiple occasions that he’s willing to sit down with Mueller anyway, and this week we learned he may actually mean it. The New York Times reported Wednesday that the president has been pressuring his lawyers to finalize terms so that the can explain to Mueller’s team just how totally innocent he is, and that their own investigation is, in fact, a “witch hunt.”
Earlier this week, Mueller sent Trump’s team a proposal outlining his parameters for a potential interview. Though he did agree to limit the number of questions he would ask of the president, as well as agreeing to take some responses in written form, he was resolute in the topics he wanted to cover, namely the alleged pre-election coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia, and whether the president has obstructed justice. The latter topic has been a point of contention for months, with Giuliani insisting that Mueller not ask any questions about anything Trump has done since taking office. Mueller’s focus on obstruction of justice ironically is what spurred the president’s Wednesday morning Twitter tantrum, during which he appeared to once again obstruct justice by calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who long ago recused himself from handling the Russia investigation — to put an end to said investigation.
..This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018
Though the degree to which Trump may have been aware of coordination between his campaign and Russia is harder to pin down, the case for obstruction of justice doesn’t seem as complicated. Former FBI Director James Comey has already testified that Trump instructed him to ease up on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who ultimately pled guilty to lying to the FBI. After Trump fired Comey in May 2017, he told NBC’s Lester Holt that he was considering “the Russia thing” when he made the decision. The president has also tweeted consistently about the ongoing investigation since before he took office. Last week, the Times reported that Mueller was looking into Trump’s tweets as part of his inquiry into whether the president may have obstructed justice. Following the Trump’s Wednesday morning call for Sessions to end the investigation, both Trump’s lawyers and the White House dismissed the tweet as an example of Trump simply expressing his opinion, not declaring anything official. In June 2017, then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump’s tweets should be considered “official statements.”
The back-and-forth will continue in the coming days as Trump’s legal team is expected to counter Mueller’s proposal. Though Trump is reportedly pressuring his team to work out a deal, Giuliani has said they won’t agree to an interview until the terms are to their liking, which could be an issue as Mueller is not likely to back off the whole obstruction of justice thing. If Trump’s team continues to stall, Mueller could attempt to subpoena the president, which would likely set off a lengthy legal battle that has the potential to reach the Supreme Court. As it just so happens, Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump picked to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, is probably going to rule that the president does not have to comply. “I don’t know of any justice who has staked out as strong a position on presidential immunity even from questioning as Judge Kavanaugh has,” Walter Dellinger, an acting solicitor general during the Clinton administration, told the Times last month.
The renewed negotiations come at a time of heightened scrutiny surrounding Trump’s relationship with Russia. In July, the president was roundly criticized for siding with Vladimir Putin over the U.S. intelligence community during a press conference with the Russian leader in Helsinki, Finland. Prior to appearing together publicly, Trump and Putin met for over two hours with no accompaniment other than their translators, a highly unorthodox move. Weeks later, it’s still unclear what was discussed — or potentially agreed upon — in the meeting. During a press briefing Thursday afternoon, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told reporters he’s “not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened.”
DNI Dan Coats: "I'm not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened in Helsinki" pic.twitter.com/E8S7qj9W4q
— Axios (@axios) August 2, 2018
Though Trump’s own administration doesn’t seem to know what may be occurring between the president and Russia, Mueller may get ahold of information that could explain why Trump has been so cozy with the former KGB agent leading one of America’s greatest adversaries. Last week, CNN reported that Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, plans to testify to Mueller that Trump knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr. and a delegation of Russians and Kremlin-connected figures. On Thursday, NBC reported that Mueller was also seeking to interview Emin Agalarov, the Russian pop star whose manager set up the meeting, and whose father offered the dirt on Clinton. In June, Agalarov released a new music video depicting an absurd confluence of characters and events relating the 2016 election and Trump’s relationship with Russia. The song is titled “Got Me Good.”