Nov 21, 2018

Behind the scenes: Trump vs. Mueller

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

President Trump delivered to Robert Mueller written answers about pre-election dimensions of the Russia probe but did not answer questions about his behavior as president, including allegations of obstruction of justice — and will resist doing so in the future — his lawyer Rudy Giuliani tells Axios.

The big picture: It is possible that Mueller will subpoena Trump regarding his activities as president. But Giuliani said he has reason to suspect he won’t: "I think that he would not win a legal battle if he did that, and I think it would consume months." If Mueller does, the president’s view is clear: He will refuse to cooperate. 

The high-stakes exchange with Mueller included no questions or answers about obstruction of justice. But Giuliani said, "I can't tell you he's given up on obstruction."

  • "I don't think he has any way to compel testimony on obstruction because the argument of executive privilege would be very, very strong. It all relates to a period of time after he was president."
  • "[A]ny question he has on obstruction, ... [t]he president has given [the answers] in interviews, tweets. Other witnesses have given it to him."
  • "And the law definitely requires that if you're going to subpoena a president, you have to show that you can't get the information any place else."

Giuliani expressed breezy confidence about Trump's legal position: "I don't think they have any evidence of collusion of any kind. I think their obstruction case, as a legal matter, doesn't exist."

And Giuliani suggested that he doubts Don Jr. will be indicted in connection with the Trump Tower meeting.

  • "I don't see what for," Giuliani said. "The meeting turned out to be a big bust. ... It's a very unattractive crime [for a prosecutor] when somebody meets with you and then you don't do anything."

If Donald Trump were an "ordinary client," it would've taken "four, five, six hours" and two meetings to answer Mueller's questions, Giuliani told me. But the process dragged out for almost a year.

  • The Mueller questionnaire "looked like a law school exam ... one big long group of questions, that were multi-part questions," Giuliani said.
  • Giuliani said that he and fellow Trump lawyers Jay Sekulow and Jane Raskin sat with Trump whenever they could grab him, in the Oval Office and in the president's private dining room adjoining the Oval.
  • They didn't tape — the lawyers took handwritten notes of Trump's answers before having them typed up.

Giuliani wouldn't tell us what questions Mueller asked. But when pressed, he conceded Mueller asked about two subjects:

  1. Mueller asked whether Trump knew at the time about his son, Don Jr., meeting with Russians in Trump Tower.
  2. Mueller asked about the Russian hacks during the campaign that immediately followed Trump's July 27, 2016, press conference in Florida, when Trump said: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] emails that are missing."

Before submitting their answers, Giuliani and the Trump team met "not much" with Mueller himself. Giuliani said they've had "numerous telephone conferences" with the Mueller team.

  • "They're all very circumspect," Giuliani said. He said they've never given him a timeline or a sense of when the investigation would end.
  • I asked Giuliani whether his personal interactions with the Mueller team ever got awkward given he's been trashing them, almost daily at times, in the press. Have they ever confronted him about his attacks on their character and motives? "Hasn't come up," Giuliani said.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 710,918 — Total deaths: 33,551 — Total recoveries: 148,900.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 135,499 — Total deaths: 2,381 — Total recoveries: 2,612.
  3. Federal government latest: The first federal prisoner to die from coronavirus was reported from a correctional facility in Louisiana on Sunday.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "panicked" some people into fleeing New York
  6. World updates: Italy on Sunday reports 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reports almost 840 dead, another new daily record that bring its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Trump touts press briefing "ratings" as U.S. coronavirus case surge

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump sent about a half-dozen tweets on Sunday touting the high television ratings that his coronavirus press briefings have received, selectively citing a New York Times article that compared them to "The Bachelor" and "Monday Night Football."

Why it matters: The president has been holding daily press briefings in the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared, but news outlets have struggled with how to cover them live — as Trump has repeatedly been found to spread misinformation and contradict public health officials.

World coronavirus updates: Total cases surge to over 700,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

There are now than more than 700,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The virus has now killed more than 32,000 people — with Italy alone reporting over 10,000 deaths.

The big picture: Governments around the world have stepped up public health and economic measures to stop the spread of the virus and soften the financial impact. In the U.S., now the site of the largest outbreak in the world, President Trump said Saturday he would issue a "strong" travel advisory for New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health