Special Counsel Robert Mueller has told Donald Trump’s lawyers that the President is under investigation in the Russia inquiry but is not — yet — a criminal target.
“Three people familiar with the discussions” said Mueller made the statements in early March about a possible interview with Trump. The Special Counsel told the lawyers that he is preparing a report about Trump’s actions while in office, including potential obstruction of justice. He reiterated the need to question Trump, to understand whether the President had any corrupt intent to block the Russia investigation.
Sources said Mueller’s description split Trump’s team. Trump and some of his allies insisted that this is an assurance that the President’s risk of criminal jeopardy is low. Other advisors have noted that subjects of investigations can easily become indicted targets.
Trump, privately believing he is clear of any criminal investigation, has increased his determination to agree to an interview, according to those around him. He believes the meeting with Mueller will help put away the inquiry.
John Dowd, Trump’s top attorney, resigned last month amid the disputes about strategy, frustrated that Trump ignored his advice to refuse Mueller’s request for an interview, according to “a Trump friend”.
The episode is an echo from last year when some of Trump’s lawyers and advisors, reportedly to appease their client, assured last year that the Mueller investigation would be over by Thanksgiving, and then by Christmas. Instead, the Special Counsel has obtained a series of convictions and indictments and expanded the scope of the inquiry to include the finances of Trump, his family, and his business.
Mueller’s investigators indicated to Trump’s legal team that they are considering reports on their findings in stages, beginning with the obstruction of justice issue. Trump’s allies believe a second report over Russia’s interference will be issued later.
The Special Counsel is required to report his conclusions confidentially to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has the authority to decide whether to release the information.
1st Sentence in Inquiry; Manafort Ties to Russia Under Scrutiny
The first sentence in the Trump-Russia investigation was handed down on Tuesday with Alex van der Zwaan — son-in-law of a Russian oligarch and the legal and business associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — given a 30-day term.
Van der Zwaan was convicted of lying to investigators about his work with Manafort and Manafort’s top aide Rick Gates, including work with pro-Russian Ukrainian entities.
The lawyer knew that Gates was in touch in autumn 2016 with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort business associate and former officer with the Russian military intelligence agency GRU.
On Monday night, court filings by Mueller’s team indicated Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein authorized the Special Counsel last summer to investigate whether Manafort “committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials”.