Political News

Before Learning of Raid, Trump’s Legal Team Convened to Discuss Mueller Interview

Posted April 13, 2018 12:09 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Shortly before news became public Monday of an FBI raid on the hotel room and office of President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Trump’s legal team met in Washington to draft a proposal that would allow him to be interviewed by the special counsel in the Russia investigation, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The proposal included details on where and under what circumstances such an interview would occur, as well as the potential length, according to the person briefed on the events. The lawyers planned to raise objections on certain issues, but they were preparing to respond to a long-standing request by the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

As they were going over the proposal, the president’s team learned that the FBI had carried out search warrants at the Rockefeller Center office and Park Avenue hotel room in New York of Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, seizing files, opening a safe and taking electronics.

The prosecutors obtained the warrants after receiving a referral from Mueller, according to Cohen’s lawyer. The search does not appear to be directly related to Mueller’s investigation into possible links between Trump’s associates and Russia’s election interference but most likely resulted from information that he had uncovered and then gave to prosecutors in New York.

The news of the raid caught them off guard, according to the person briefed on the discussions, undercutting the “fundamental assumptions” that had guided the negotiations. Trust with Mueller’s team has been “damaged,” the person said.

Trump’s advisers have considered the search warrants against Cohen as extensive overreach. That the warrants were handled by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York suggested to them that Mueller and his team were using a federal prosecutor’s office as a cover to go after Trump.

Trump’s team had been told of distinct “buckets” of issues that Mueller’s team sought to discuss with the president, primarily related to Michael Flynn, the national security adviser who resigned under pressure; Russia; and the broader question of obstruction of justice, according to people familiar with the discussions.

But the issue of Cohen was never raised, they said.

The Trump advisers have not broken off discussions with the Mueller team, but they are devising a new strategy. Trump’s lawyers had advised the president against participating in a wide-ranging interview, putting them at odds with Trump, who has said publicly and privately that he is eager to speak with Mueller. But the president’s interest in doing so has decreased.

Ty Cobb, a lawyer for the White House Counsel’s Office, declined to comment, suggesting only that the two sides continued to speak. Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, declined to comment.