Sat, 25 May 2019

Perjury trap? No sweat! Trump's answers for Mueller complete

By Sheetal Sukhija, The Asia News
18 Nov 2018, 22:06 GMT+10

WASHINGTON, U.S. - The U.S. Justice Department's intense investigation into alleged collusion between the U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia during the 2016 Presidential elections has witnessed several dramatic moments this year.

However, as 2018 draws to a close, many across the country are still fishing for clues on the a question that emerged at the start of the year - whether the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe will lead to a legal showdown involving President Trump himself.

The possibility of Trump being forced to answer direct questions under oath from investigators, has been discussed and debated by the President's multiple legal teams and strategists, along with experts across the country.

However, each of the men who have headed Trump's legal team since he assumed office, have offered the President varying and often contradictory strategies on dealing with the situation, in case it emerges.

Trump's legal team had its worst fears realized earlier this year, when Mueller's prosecutors said they were seeking a face to face interview with the President, in relation to not only the Russia collusion probe, but also into an obstruction of justice investigation that they were pursuing simultaneously since early 2017.

From cautious to vindictive

Under heat from the media and the quickly unfolding Russia investigation - Trump, repeatedly and publicly expressed his willingness to take tough questions from the Special Counsel under oath.

Yet, even as he continued to boldly express his willingness to take the hot seat, his legal team remained locked in furious debate over not just the legality of Mueller's requests, but also over whether Trump would be able to avoid implicating himself during such an interview.

With the leadership of his legal team changing multiple times through the year, so did Trump's strategy.

However, the President's recruitment of the former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to head his personal legal team this year, proved to be a decisive move.

Overnight, the President's legal strategy went from being discreet, diplomatic and controlled to turning aggressive, unabashed and vindictive.

Trump's strategy to repeatedly attack the Russia probe and publicly discredit Mueller were magnified four fold by Giuliani - who even publicly acknowledged that his mission was to manipulate the public over the authenticity of the investigation.

However, unlike Trump's former personal attorneys, Giuliani did not stop the President from answering Mueller's questions - instead, he sought to negotiate with the Special Counsel's team and established ground rules favoring his client.

Yet, while Mueller still had the option of taking the confrontational approach, by subpoenaing the President, he choose to negotiate and eventually the two sides settled on allowing Trump to provide written answers to the prosecutors' questions.

Giuliani's tactic stemmed from concerns expressed by former Trump attorneys, who feared that the President's free-wheeling attitude and failure to stick to script, might cause him to accidentally incriminate himself while speaking under oath - or what is called a perjury trap.

To further secure his client, Giuliani clarified that Trump would not answer any questions related to alleged obstruction of justice - with the White House reiterating the decision several times since then.

Following a careful examination of the list of questions prepared by Mueller's prosecutors - some of which leaked to the media - Giuliani agreed to take the process forward.

Now, months after the questions were handed to Trump, he told reporters on Saturday that his answers for Mueller were done.

'Answered very easily, no sweat'

The President spoke to reporters outside the White House on Saturday and said that he would deliver his written answers to questions from Mueller next week.

He beamed, "They're all done," explaining that he had answered the questions "very easily."

He clarified, "My lawyers don't write answers, I write answers."

Yet, he said that he fully expects some of the questions were "tricked up" to sneaking lure him into a "perjury trap."

Trump said that his legal team had not discussed the possibility of a sit-down interview with investigators.

This is the first time Trump has directly participated in Mueller's probe, which he has labelled the biggest witch hunt in American history.

While acknowledging his plans to hand over his answers to the Special Counsel, Trump didn't refrain from relating his previous critique of the probe.

Without citing evidence, Trump again suggested that investigators might have "bad intentions" and "like to catch people."

He told reporters, "You always have to be careful answering questions for people who have bad intentions."

The President also said that the "witch hunt" has "wasted millions and millions of dollars."

He fumed, "There should've never been any Mueller investigation because there was never anything done wrong."

Despite his repeated attacks, Trump later said that he wasn't "agitated" by Mueller, adding, "I imagine it's ending now. I'm sure it'll be just fine."

So far, Mueller has secured guilty pleas from former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, former top campaign official Rick Gates and former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn.

Further, Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen too has pleaded guilty in an unrelated case, which reportedly implicates Trump in campaign finance violations.

Cohen continues to cooperate with Mueller.

Mueller has also charged 13 Russian nationals, 12 Russian intelligence officers, three Russian companies, and two other people as he seeks to unravel the alleged Trump campaign-Russia collusion that was aimed at swinging the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Trump's favor.

What happens now?

According to experts, based on Mueller's undisclosed questions and Trump's answers, Mueller's office could seek a follow-up interview with the President.

Such a move could be possible if Trump has left some questions unanswered or simply if investigators seek more clarity or a further explanation.

However, if Trump has indeed fallen into the perjury trap, it would then be up to Mueller and his team to decide the future path.

Further, experts have suggested that the Special Counsel could still ask to hear from Trump in person - a move he might make by either subpoenaing Trump, which would compel him to respond.

Even though, at this point, the investigation could take several possible directions - all roads are headed towards the increasingly realistic prospect of a legal showdown between Trump and Mueller that could result in a landmark legal ruling.

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