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Trump’s lawyers counter Mueller’s interview offer, seeking narrower scope

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Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, at the Capitol in Washington, June 21, 2017. - DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES
  • Doug Mills/The New York Times
  • Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, at the Capitol in Washington, June 21, 2017.
By Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman
c.2018 New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s lawyers rejected the special counsel’s latest terms for an interview in the Russia investigation, countering Wednesday with an offer that suggested a narrow path for answering questions, people familiar with the matter said.

Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, confirmed that a response was sent but declined to comment on its content. The president’s lead lawyer in the case, Rudy Giuliani, noted the documents that the White House has already provided and said, “We’re restating what we have been saying for months: It is time for the Office of Special Counsel to conclude its inquiry without further delay.”

The letter marked the latest back and forth in the eight months of negotiations between Trump’s lawyers and the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Last week, Mueller proposed a slightly altered format to the expansive interview he wants to conduct with the president.

Trump’s lawyers did not reject an interview outright but included the narrower counteroffer, one person familiar with the response said. However, Trump’s lawyers do not want him answering questions about whether he obstructed justice, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The response indicated how far apart the two sides remain. Mueller wants to question the president on a range of issues, chiefly his associates’ contacts with Russia; possible coordination between his campaign and Moscow’s election interference; and the intent behind presidential actions that could be construed as attempts to obstruct the inquiry.

But the president’s lawyers are concerned that if he is interviewed, Trump could perjure himself. That concern is in part driving the ongoing negotiations. They had been prepared last week to tell Mueller that Trump would decline an interview, but the president pushed his lawyers to continue negotiating.

By making another counterproposal after months of promises that they were just weeks away from deciding about an interview, Trump’s lawyers run the risk that Mueller could conclude they are negotiating in bad faith to prolong the investigation. In a meeting with Trump’s lawyers this year, Mueller threatened to take the extraordinary step of subpoenaing the president if he did not sit for a voluntary interview.