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Mueller: Trump is not a target in Russia probe, only a subject

Robert Mueller on February 16, 2011, as he testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. (James Berglie/Zuma Press/TNS)
April 05, 2018

President Donald Trump is a subject, not a target, of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

The President’s attorneys were informed last month in private negotiations that Mueller is continuing to investigate Trump, but the special counsel may not currently have enough evidence to bring about any charges.

Trump’s lawyers were also informed that the special counsel is preparing a report on the President’s actions while in office, along with the potential for an obstruction of justice case, according to sources interviewed by the Washington Post.

“They’ve said they want to write a report on this — to answer the public’s questions — and they need the President’s interview as the last step,” one person familiar with the discussions told The Washington Post.

The President’s legal team expects that Trump would face questions about his contacts and their interaction with Russian officials and emissaries in 2016, along with his firings of former FBI Director James Comey and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Mueller has stressed the importance of formally interviewing Trump in order to further the investigation, and the President has on a number of occasions said that he is willing to cooperate. However, no formal meeting has been arranged so far.

And although the president has seemingly been open to cooperation, more recently Trump has been critical of Mueller’s investigation and doubled-down on his claim of it being a “witch hunt.”

Mueller’s classification of Trump as a subject of the probe left some in the President’s inner circle to question the special counsel’s intentions in revealing such a detail.

While Trump and his allies have taken the news as reassurance that his risk of criminal jeopardy is low, other advisers stress that Trump at any point could still end up being indicted.

“If I were the President, I would be very reluctant to think I’m off the hook,” said Keith Whittington, a professor of politics at Princeton University and impeachment expert.

“My sense of it is the President — given that information — ought to have pretty fair warning anything he’s saying in the deposition would be legally consequential. Depending on what he says, it could wind up changing how the special counsel is thinking about him,” Whittington told the Washington Post.

Even if Mueller does find that Trump engaged in criminal conduct, legal scholars have said that it would be difficult to charge a sitting President with a crime, according to writings by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel back in 1973. Rather than formally charging the President, Mueller may be forced to release a detailed report and leave it up to Congress to decide the President’s fate.

“The President’s personal risk is primarily on the impeachment front,” Whittington said. “Even if there are not things that lead to indictment, there may be matters that warrant an impeachment investigation and proceedings.”