President Donald Trump has provided the special counsel with written answers to questions about his knowledge of Russian interference in the 2016 election, his lawyers said Tuesday, avoiding at least for now a potentially risky sit-down with prosecutors. It is the first time he has directly cooperated with the long investigation.
The step is a milestone in the negotiations between Trump’s attorneys and special counsel Robert Mueller’s team over whether and when the president might sit for an interview. The compromise outcome, nearly a year in the making, offers some benefit to both sides. Trump at least temporarily averts the threat of an in-person interview, which his lawyers have long resisted, while Mueller secures on-the-record statements whose accuracy the president will be expected to stand by for the duration of the investigation. The responses may also help stave off a potential subpoena fight over Trump’s testimony if Mueller deems them satisfactory.
They represent the first time the president is known to have described to investigators his knowledge of key moments under scrutiny by prosecutors. But investigators may still press for more information. Mueller’s team months ago presented Trump’s legal team with dozens of questions they wanted to ask the president related to whether his campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to tip the 2016 election and whether he sought to obstruct the Russia probe by actions including the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. The investigators agreed to accept written responses to questions about potential Russian collusion and tabled, for the moment, obstruction-related inquiries. Mueller left open the possibility that he would follow up with additional questions on obstruction, though Trump’s lawyers — who had long resisted any face-to-face interview — have been especially adamant that the Constitution shields him from having to answer any questions about actions he took as president.
Trump attorney Jay Sekulow offered no details on the current Q&A, saying merely that “the written questions submitted by the special counsel’s office … dealt with issues regarding the Russia-related topics of the inquiry. The president responded in writing.” He said the legal team would not release copies of the questions and answers or discuss any correspondence it has had with the special counsel’s office.