In spite of threats of a subpoena, President Donald Trump never sat for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller — and new information uncovered by the Washington Post reveals how he managed it.
The Post reported that although Trump publicly said he was willing to sit for an interview, his White House and personal lawyers urged him not to — and according to current and former aides in his administration, his attorneys won out.
A former senior Trump administration official and another person familiar with the president's legal team said negotiations between the White House and Mueller began around Thanksgiving 2017 and that they initially scheduled an in-person interview for January 2018 — but former White House counsel John Dowd canceled it, arguing that the president would either misspeak or lie.
As veteran journalist Bob Woodward revealed in his White House tell-all Fear, Dowd was further convinced that Trump would fumble in a sitdown with Mueller after a mock interview. The former White House counsel disputed the book's account at the time, but the Post's sources said the practice session dismayed him.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump's attorney and the former mayor of New York City, told the Post that the president's legal team was concerned about Mueller and that information they received about his probe "raised our suspicion that this is a trap, rather than a search for more information" as he kept trying to reschedule the interview.
Someone familiar with Mueller's probe said that while the president's lawyers punted on the meeting, the special counsel's team "discussed at length the idea of issuing a subpoena, if necessary, to compel Trump to sit for an interview," the Post reported.
Mueller, his top deputy James Quarles and prosecutors Michael Dreeben and Aaron Zebley worked to figure out whether a subpoena was "legally feasible and what the costs of such a move might be to the overall investigation," the Post's source described.
During a March 5, 2018 meeting, Mueller broached the potential subpoena in a previously-reported meeting with Trump's legal team — and caused Dowd to "erupt" in anger.
"You’re screwing with the work of the president of the United States," the former White House counsel said, according to two people briefed on the testy exchange who spoke to the Post.
Although Mueller and his team switched to an approach intended to coax Trump willingly into an interview, the president's legal team felt after learning of the subpoena threat that it hung over the White House.
"The whole exercise was premised on the idea that that was a legal option they could pursue," a Trump adviser told the Post, "and we were never absolutely sure until the end that they would not."
The report noted that Mueller's team never stopped trying to get the interview and, according to people familiar with the proceedings, Trump's legal team had difficulty getting Trump to focus as they drafted his submissions to the special counsel's written questions.
After Trump's lawyers sent Mueller the answers in November 2018, the special counsel's team once more requested an interview and alerted the president's attorneys that they had follow-up questions. His attorney's punted, declining again to have Trump sit down with Mueller or to answer the additional questions.
"Two months later, Mueller submitted his report without having spoken to the president," the Post noted. "The investigation was over."