WASHINGTON — Lawyers for President Donald Trump told special counsel Robert Mueller that the president cannot be compelled to testify and cannot have committed obstruction of justice because he has authority over all federal investigations, according to a confidential letter revealed Saturday.
The Trump attorneys’ 20-page letter to Mueller on Jan. 29, 2018, which The New York Times first reported and published Saturday, asserts that because the president under the Constitution is the “chief law enforcement officer” he could not obstruct the investigation because “that would amount to him obstructing himself.”
The letter also asserted that the president, with the powers granted to him by the Constitution, “could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.”
Trump lawyers John M. Dowd, who has since resigned, and Jay Sekulow made those assertions of executive authority in a response to conversations on Nov. 17, 2017, and Jan. 8, 2018, with Mueller’s office as it requested an interview with Trump in its investigation of collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice.
Dowd and Sekulow argue in the letter that Mueller does not need to interview Trump because of the thousands of records the White House has turned over to him and the waiving of executive privilege in allowing top aides to talk to Mueller’s office.
“The president’s prime function as the Chief Executive ought not be hampered by requests for interview,” they wrote. “Having him testify demeans the Office of the President before the world.”
The legal assertions made in the letter, which constitutional experts say raise novel issues, likely will be tested in court if Trump declines an interview, Mueller issues a subpoena and a legal battle ensues.
The lawyers mounted a defense of Trump in what they outlined as 16 areas of Mueller’s interest.
The lawyers deny then-FBI Director James Comey’s claim that Trump asked him to see his way clear to “letting Flynn go” after warning that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about talking with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States. The letter also argues there was no actual legal proceeding at that time to obstruct.
And they add that Trump “facilitated the pursuit of justice” by firing Flynn 24 days into his administration.
And the letter also argues that the news media has not fully reported what is considered a damning statement by Trump to NBC anchor Lester Holt on why he fired Comey. Trump said that “when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
But the letter said Trump later added he wanted the Russia investigation “to be absolutely done properly” and acknowledged firing Comey “might even lengthen out the investigation.”
Trump himself commented on the issues on Twitter, asking: "Is the Special Counsel/Justice Department leaking my lawyers letters to the Fake News Media?"