WASHINGTON — Special Counsel Robert Mueller raised the prospect earlier this year of subpoenaing President Donald Trump as part of the ongoing probe into Russian election interference.
In an interview with the Associated Press late Tuesday, Trump’s former personal attorney John Dowd said Mueller told the president’s legal team he would issue a grand jury subpoena to compel Trump to testify if he did not willingly speak to Mueller.
Mueller’s comments came during a tense meeting in March as Trump’s legal team fought against the idea of the president speaking with Mueller, Dowd told the AP.
Following the standoff, Mueller compromised with Trump’s legal team, providing them with a list of more than 40 questions he was seeking to ask the president in relation to the Russia probe, according to a story posted on the Washington Post website Tuesday.
The list of questions was made public on Monday, after the New York Times published it.
Trump on Tuesday denounced the leak on Twitter as “disgraceful.”
The disclosure of the list, which includes questions about Trump’s business ties to Russia and his motive for firing former FBI Director James Comey, prompted the president to fume on Twitter that the queries were part of a “witch hunt” probing a “phony crime.”
“So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were ‘leaked’ to the media,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning. “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!”
Despite his assertions that the questions did not address purported collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia, the list does include several Russia-related queries. One is whether Trump had knowledge of “any outreach by his presidential campaign . . . to Russia about possible assistance to the campaign,” and another is what he knows “about phone calls that former national security adviser Michael Flynn made with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador at the time, in late December 2016?”
Trump, who has told reporters on numerous occasions that he is willing to sit down for an interview with Mueller, pushed back on the premise that the questions signal that Mueller is examining in part whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice by firing Comey, who was leading the Russia inquiry before his dismissal last May.
“It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!” Trump said on Twitter.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to answer whether Trump had reviewed the complete list of questions, which The Times said was provided to the president’s legal team in March. She referred reporters at Tuesday’s news briefing to the president’s personal legal team.
Jay Sekulow, the lead attorney on the team representing Trump in the Russia probe, did not return an email seeking comment.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah, in a Tuesday morning interview with Fox News, said the list of questions proved the president’s argument that Mueller’s probe is reaching far beyond its initial focus on Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
“The overwhelming majority of those questions don’t focus on the underlying premise of this special counsel,” Shah said. “We have been cooperating as a White House with this probe, but we are a little frustrated that the focus of it is not near what it was created to focus on, which is the collusion question.”
Also on Tuesday, the White House denied media reports of growing tension between Trump and his chief of staff, John Kelly, and dismissed reports that Kelly, a retired Marine general, is being considered to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“No, he is not being considered as the VA secretary,” Sanders told reporters at the White House news briefing. “Both the president and the chief of staff are very happy with his position that he currently holds, which is chief of staff to the president at the White House.”