May 4, 2018

Trump and Robert Mueller’s great game of chicken

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Last June, President Trump told me he was “100 percent” willing to answer questions — under oath — from Robert Mueller. Over the tumultuous months that followed, two things have remained consistent: 1) Virtually every lawyer friendly to the president has urged him to avoid an interview; and, 2) The president has said he is willing, even eager, to sit down with the special counsel.

Now it’s the Rudy Show. The President is gearing up, not to talk to Robert Mueller, but to fight him.

  • Rudy Giuliani tells ABC News the Trump legal team is now preparing to battle against a subpoena for Trump to testify. “I think it’s 50/50” that Mueller subpoenas the president’s testimony, Giuliani says. “I got to prepare for the 50 percent.”  
  • What he’s not saying: If the president is amped up to fight an effort by Mueller to force him to testify, he can’t exactly be driving his lawyers crazy anymore by talking about voluntarily testifying.

The big picture: The president and the special counsel are engaged in a game of chicken — both sides threatening steps neither wants, because they could trigger a crisis with dangerous and unpredictable consequences.

  • Trump, for all his Twitter threats about using “the powers granted to the presidency,” knows firing Mueller would have dire political consequences.
  • And Mueller, despite the threat to compel the president to testify, doesn't want to subpoena the president because the ensuing legal battle, which he could lose, would last a minimum of six months and possibly a year.
  • That would give the president’s allies time to wage a campaign to undermine public support for the investigation.

What to watch: The negotiations over a Trump/Mueller interview continue.

  • Despite Rudy’s 50/50 odds, the Trump legal team thinks Mueller won’t pull the trigger on a subpoena, and will ultimately be forced to accept written  answers from the president.

Jonathan Karl is the chief White House correspondent. for ABC News. This post is from "1 Big Guest" in today's Axios AM.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 a.m. ET: 664,695 — Total deaths: 30,847 — Total recoveries: 140,156.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 1 a.m. ET: 124,464 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

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

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by late Saturday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health

Trump rules out quarantine in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut after pushback

President Trump on the White House grounds on Saturdya. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

President Trump tweeted Saturday night that he's decided not to introduce quarantine enforcement measures fo New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut, but a "strong" travel advisory will be issued for those states. The CDC later announced domestic travel restrictions for the states.

Why it matters: Trump said hours earlier he was considering quarantine measures to combat the rise in novel coronavirus cases. But he received pushback, notably from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who told CNN such a measure would cause "chaos." "This would be a federal declaration of war on states," Cuomo added.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 5 hours ago - Health