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WH: Trump 'fully cooperative' on Russia probe

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders answers questions on whether President Trump would submit to an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Posted: Jan 24, 2018 1:51 PM
Updated: Jan 24, 2018 1:51 PM

Finally, inexorably, special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has clawed all the way up to Donald Trump himself.

Now a foreboding moment looms for his presidency and for the nation.

A stunning barrage of revelations on Tuesday suggested that at least one strand of Mueller's Russia probe is racing toward its end game, emphasizing the gravity of the situation facing the White House and the potential vulnerability of the President.

Mueller's request to question Trump, and news that his team has already interviewed fired FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, indicate that the special counsel has a clear picture of where he is headed in what could turn into an obstruction of justice case, legal experts said.

"It's possible that Mueller is closing in on his determination about what obstruction looks like, whether it is a criminal offense in his mind, whether it is an impeachable offense, or whether it amounts to nothing," Michael Zeldin, a former senior aide to Mueller at the Justice Department, told CNN's Brooke Baldwin.

Tuesday's bombshells came amid new signs that Trump is still pushing up against constitutional norms in his conduct toward judicial authorities usually seen as independent of the President.

The current FBI Director Christopher Wray threatened to quit, a source familiar with the situation told CNN, after coming under pressure from Sessions, to clean out senior leadership figures dating from the Comey era who the President believes are biased against him. The development was first reported by Axios.

The Washington Post reported that Trump had asked then acting FBI director Andrew McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 election in an introductory Oval Office meeting and criticized his wife's Democratic affiliation, in a move that infringed customary treatment of a civil servant.

And there are signs Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign staffer who pleaded not guilty in October to eight charges of money laundering and failing to register foreign lobbying and other business, may be ready to cooperate with Mueller, CNN's Katelyn Polantz reported Tuesday night.

And on a day of intense drama, efforts by Republicans to discredit the Russia probe gathered pace, as the White House said Trump was ready to declassify a memo written by GOP committee staff in the House claiming misconduct by FBI officials investigating the President.

Four Trump associates have so far been charged in the Mueller investigation, but there is still neither proof of wrongdoing by the President nor indications of the special counsel's eventual conclusions.

Yet the prospect of the President of the United States testifying to the investigation would lift the intrigue to an unprecedented level, and would be a spectacle not seen since Bill Clinton's grand jury appearance 20 years ago that led to his eventual impeachment over an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

The fact that Mueller's team has already spoken to Comey and Sessions and now wants to talk to the President suggests the investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice by asking the former FBI director to go easy on former national security adviser Michael Flynn and then fired him when he demurred, is at an advanced stage. CNN also reported last week that Trump's former top political adviser Steve Bannon had struck a deal to be interviewed by Mueller's prosecutors.

"It seems to indicate that the investigation is in its 11th hour," said Jens David Ohlin, a professor and vice dean at Cornell Law School.

Ohlin said the seniority of those questioned points to Mueller reaching a defining moment at least in the obstruction of justice portion of an investigation that is also considering whether anyone in the Trump campaign broke the law by cooperating with a Russian election meddling effort.

"We are at the top of the heap politically with Steve Bannon. We are at the top of the heap in terms of law enforcement in terms of the attorney general and the former head of the FBI," said Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's former Republican attorney general.

"It strikes me they are getting near the end of gathering all their information, and then ... they are going to have to process that and make some decisions about how to proceed," Cuccinelli told CNN.

The interview request suggests that Mueller is proceeding in classic fashion, working his way from the broadest point of the investigation to the key figure, with Trump at the tip of the triangle.

Trump has consistently denied any collusion with Russia, has said he did not obstruct justice in firing Comey and has branded the entire episode a "hoax" and a "witch hunt" against him.

The fact that Mueller has come this far does suggest that he believes at the very least there is "something there" in the possible obstruction case, Ohlin said: "I don't think it is just out of an abundance of diligence. He's doing it because he sees something problematic with Comey's dismissal. If there is truly nothing there, it is very easy to investigate it because there is just nothing to grasp onto."

The latest reports shed new light on Trump's potential exposure, noting that the special counsel's office has indicated it wants to talk to Trump about Flynn's exit and Comey's dismissal.

The Washington Post also said Mueller was interested in Trump's efforts to remove Sessions or to pressure him into quitting, quoting a source familiar with the investigation as saying the special counsel wanted to assess whether there was a "pattern" of behavior by the President.

Still, as Mueller has shown -- for instance in surprise indictments and plea deals last year -- no one outside his investigation can accurately assess his intentions or its scope.

"We also don't know if it will lead to anything at all. Sometimes you get to the end of an investigation and you have the final interview to check the box," former US Attorney Preet Bharara said on the "Situation Room" on Tuesday. "It may be that this will lead to something very significant and earth-shattering and earth-shaking for the country, it also could be something they are just putting to bed."

Trump's lawyers could offer written answers from the President to the special counsel's questions -- a step many legal analysts suspect will not go far enough for Mueller. Another option might be a formal interview with Trump's lawyers present, which would allow them to restrain their star witness, who is often voluble and imprecise and economical with the truth in a way that could lead him into jeopardy from Mueller's crack team of prosecutors.

Refusing Mueller's request could force the special counsel to subpoena the President to testify to a grand jury, a step that would put him in an even more perilous situation.

Tuesday's developments also shed new light on Trump's potential vulnerability. Mueller is now armed with the testimony of Comey, Sessions and that of a cooperating witness Flynn, all of whom could have shed light on crucial conversations with the President.

He likely also has a large quantity of evidence from other sources, including interviews, emails and other testimony and doubtlessly already knows the answer to many of the questions he will pose to Trump, putting the President on thin ice if he is not completely truthful.

Mueller also has the benefit of contemporaneous memos written by Comey after several meetings with the President in which he detailed what he later said was an effort by the President to develop a inappropriate relationship of "patronage" with him.

Trump said last year that he would be "100 percent" willing to testify to Mueller under oath. CNN has reported that some of the President's friends and associates have warned him not to put himself in legal jeopardy by voluntarily submitting to an interviews. Earlier this month, Trump appeared to walk back on the prospect of meeting Mueller.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday that the White House is "fully cooperative" with Mueller but believes the American people are ready to move on. But a new CNN poll appeared to counter that assertion, finding that 8 in 10 people said Trump should testify to Mueller if asked, including 59% of Republicans.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 595436

Reported Deaths: 9466
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion822851311
Lake44626670
Allen32165543
Hamilton28684308
St. Joseph26917378
Elkhart24173343
Vanderburgh18856236
Tippecanoe17638125
Johnson14687289
Porter14513163
Hendricks14010242
Madison10715216
Vigo10540177
Clark10349135
Monroe9189108
Delaware8956134
LaPorte8867158
Howard7982140
Kosciusko791380
Warrick652994
Hancock646999
Bartholomew631096
Floyd6205107
Wayne5984159
Grant5874110
Dubois547175
Boone538867
Morgan524192
Henry497764
Marshall495384
Cass475362
Dearborn464545
Noble463157
Jackson417846
Shelby405680
Lawrence383876
Clinton367840
Gibson360058
DeKalb339163
Montgomery338152
Harrison333643
Knox329839
Miami312743
Steuben309343
Adams297435
Whitley297225
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White269138
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Jefferson253838
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Fayette242948
Greene237062
Posey234427
Wells231347
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Clay219032
Scott218538
Randolph209845
Jennings193935
Sullivan189632
Spencer184319
Fountain180527
Washington179321
Starke172743
Jay163922
Fulton161130
Owen161137
Carroll153915
Orange152933
Rush151618
Perry149327
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Franklin144433
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Parke12918
Pike114326
Blackford109222
Pulaski95337
Newton89821
Brown85931
Benton85310
Crawford7719
Martin70713
Warren6637
Switzerland6235
Union6146
Ohio4727
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 836049

Reported Deaths: 10323
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin98533705
Cuyahoga831801065
Hamilton61931441
Montgomery42028399
Summit33849736
Lucas30524605
Butler30003228
Stark25093419
Warren19083140
Lorain18418212
Mahoning16931337
Lake15592136
Clermont15335105
Delaware1403077
Licking12819132
Trumbull12515307
Fairfield1232480
Greene11729135
Medina11286165
Clark10672264
Wood10081156
Allen9639126
Portage9006107
Miami895273
Richland8910116
Marion7377113
Tuscarawas7177174
Columbiana7164124
Pickaway710350
Wayne6855165
Muskingum678241
Erie5976118
Hancock542990
Ross535287
Scioto527063
Geauga491755
Darke459489
Ashtabula443172
Lawrence439353
Union437028
Sandusky427462
Mercer427387
Seneca417357
Auglaize416259
Huron416138
Shelby413521
Jefferson409066
Belmont403740
Washington375940
Putnam367872
Athens36759
Madison343429
Knox340122
Ashland336838
Fulton328543
Defiance322578
Crawford316371
Preble313836
Brown298819
Logan296529
Ottawa283934
Clinton281243
Williams272866
Highland266018
Jackson259043
Guernsey245325
Champaign244427
Fayette229729
Morrow22574
Perry223318
Holmes220362
Henry213547
Hardin206433
Coshocton199620
Van Wert198744
Wyandot192549
Gallia192126
Adams167415
Pike167417
Hocking165523
Carroll151316
Paulding141121
Noble118740
Meigs105021
Monroe97229
Harrison8598
Morgan79728
Vinton67613
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