03 May, 2018
At a meeting with Donald Trump's lawyers in March, special counsel Robert Mueller said he could issue a subpoena to call their client before a grand jury, a development that had stunned and anxious the USA president's legal team.
The combative tenor was apparent even in the official statement Wednesday from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirming that Flood would replace Cobb, which referred to Mueller's investigation as "the Russian Federation witch hunt". He'll be replaced by Emmet Flood a veteran Washington attorney who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment.
Further, Trump has already told reporters that he would speak with the special counsel, even when the President's legal team initially claimed that an interview could happen under the right terms. The White House says Ty Cobb plans to retire at the end of this month.
Flood will soon work alongside a remade group of personal lawyers - including another hire expected in the coming weeks - as they devise a new strategy to deal with Mueller's team, according to White House advisers.
"This isn't some game", John Dowd, Trump's then lead lawyer for the Russian Federation probe, had said angrily, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the move.
After the March meeting, Mueller's team agreed to provide the president's lawyers with more specific information about the subjects they wished to ask Trump, the Post reported.
It was unclear what Trump meant by "get involved".
Those who predict that the confrontation with Mueller could be devastating - setting up a unsafe clash between the President's "truthiness" problem and the stringent requirements of the law - downplay how much of the investigation really depends on politics, not law.
"The investigators at the special counsel's office are following leads all the way to the end", Caputo told ABC News' Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas in an interview Wednesday.
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Even if Mueller's team made a decision to subpoena Trump as part of the investigation, the president could still fight it in court or refuse to answer questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination.
According to the sources, if Trump refuses to give a voluntary interview, prosecutors could issue a subpoena compelling testimony. "I don't see how he can have conducted a thorough investigation of the matters under his jurisdiction without speaking to Trump".
The president renewed his complaints on Wednesday in a post on Twitter that held open the possibility he might use "the powers granted to the presidency" and "get involved!"
Notably omitted, Caputo said, from Wednesday's questioning: "Nobody with the last name Trump came up".
As much as he complains about Mueller, the investigation has become a pillar of Trump's larger narrative on what's wrong with Washington, and the forces he is up against.
Cobb did not personally represent the president, but he was a critical adviser, coordinating dealings with Mueller, functioning as a point person for document and interview requests and working closely with Trump's personal lawyers. "No questions on Collusion", he said, "collusion that never existed". What are they afraid of?
"A Rigged System - They don't want to turn over Documents to Congress". Trump tweeted his frequent claim that the charge of collusion is a "hoax" but added something new: He said the probe for obstruction is a "setup & trap". Why so much redacting? "A president who actually cares about the institution of the presidency, I think, would voluntarily cooperate because he would recognize that the fight in court is going to generate precedent that could be potentially adverse to future presidents down the line", said Katyal. "He loses. He'll have to testify", Sol Wisenberg, a Washington defense attorney who was deputy independent counsel in the Starr investigation, told me, pointing to the case law. "Why such unequal 'justice?'"
Both in USA v. Nixon (telling Richard Nixon to turn over the tapes pursuant to a subpoena) and in the Paula Jones case (rejecting the argument that participation in a civil matter including a deposition "may impose an unacceptable burden on the President's time and energy, and thereby impair the effective performance of his office") the court held that the president is not beyond the reach of the normal discovery process in either criminal or civil matters.