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Donald Trump’s lawyers have begun planning a series of summer prep sessions for the president before a possible sit-down with special counsel Robert Mueller for an interview, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said Thursday.
The planning meetings — to be held during off-hours at the White House and perhaps over games of golf at Trump’s private courses, Giuliani said — will mirror Trump’s 2016 debate preparation, in which aides briefed an impatient president in several brief sessions over many weeks. Giuliani said the briefings likely will begin after Trump returns from a June 12 summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if a Mueller interview is agreed to.
“You can’t take a president away to Camp David and just prepare him for two or three weeks,” Giuliani said in an interview.
“I think of it as the way we prepared him for debates,” he added. “He never liked to sitting down for long stretches. We’d do an hour here, two hours there. We’d end up doing 15, 16 hours of preparation, particularly for the first debate. But we’d do it here and there. We have to do it over the course of two or three weeks. Maybe at nights, maybe in the morning.”
It remains unclear whether Mueller will actually wind up speaking to Trump. But the comments seem to suggest that Trump’s lawyers have softened their position on the matter and may now view a sit down with the special counsel as inevitable.
Giuliani suggested the prospect has recently grown more likely, for two reasons.
One is that Mueller has sent the Trump team a written clarification of his expectations about the ground rules for a potential interview. Giuliani said that Trump’s lawyers had sent a series of five letters to Mueller “seeking to narrow the scope of the questioning and the timing and all of that. And we finally got a brief response that gives us some hope that maybe we can do something.”
Giuliani declined to elaborate on the details of Mueller’s response, but added: “I’ve been saying for two weeks we’re not getting a response. I think it finally hit home and we got one. It seems like a reasonable position not that we can agree with but from which we can negotiate.”
The former New York mayor also said that Trump’s team has agreed with Mueller than any interview would be audiotaped with a stenographer in the room. He added that he is open to the public release of the interview, but that it would not be his ultimate decision.
The second reason, Giuliani said, was a separate verbal assurance from a top Mueller deputy that the special counsel intends to heed a pair of Justice Department legal opinions which say that a sitting president can’t be indicted.
Giuliani confirmed earlier reports that Mueller’s team has told him they plan to submit a written report to the Justice Department that would spell out the findings from their now year-old investigation, which began as an examination of Russian election influence but has since broadened significantly.
“I just wanted to make sure we were all clear on that that we were aiming for a report,” Giuliani said. “I don’t see Mueller in a million years doing an indictment. I don’t think he’s that kind of guy that’s going to violate Justice Department policies nor do I think he wants a Constitutional question of this dimension that honestly can only be resolved in favor of the president.”
“It’s almost a given that the head of state is immune from criminal process,” Giuliani said. He asserted that few leaders worldwide are subject to criminal charges, adding: “In banana republics they don’t do it. Certainly not in civilized countries with a rule of law.”
Trump has repeatedly — and as recently as April — said he is willing to grant Mueller an interview, insisting that he is “looking forward to it.”
But Trump’s lawyers have resisted the president while putting up their own series of demands to the special counsel. Mueller has rejected at least one: that Trump be allowed to answer questions in writing.
While noting Mueller and the Justice Department will decide who can review or even listen to the interview, Giuliani said he’d probably welcome Trump’s answers being made public in some capacity.
“I guess I got to wait and see what they ask,” he said. “I don’t foresee his saying anything terribly different than he said publicly already. There are no questions they’re going to ask him that haven’t been asked one way or another of him.”
In anticipation of an interview, Giuliani said he planned to speak with lawyers who have worked with Trump during his business career on depositions and go over the transcripts “to see what his natural instinct is.”
While many Trump allies have urged the president to avoid an interview altogether, fearful it would create a “perjury trap” for the president, Giuliani said he wasn’t concerned that Trump could get himself into more legal trouble when meeting with Mueller’s team.
And he seemed confident that Trump could prepare for a high-stakes interview in a major federal criminal case much the same way he practiced talking points for debates with the likes of Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. Trump has a notoriously short attention span, and his impatience with briefings and reading material could heighten his peril in an interview with Mueller.
Giuliani said Trump’s lawyers would work “at the White House, then at night and after he finishes playing golf. We’d get to play together.”
Robert Ray, the former Whitewater special counsel after Kenneth Starr, cautioned the president and his lawyers to see a Mueller interview for what it is: a critical meeting in connection with an active criminal investigation where the consequences for misleading testimony include perjury and obstruction of justice.
“I wouldn’t analogize it to debate preparation. I’d analogize it to what it is: witness preparation,” he said.
Trump is no newcomer to legal proceedings: A USA Today database counted more than 4,000 federal and state lawsuits involving him over three decades in business. According to the Atlantic, Trump said in a 2012 hearing that he’d participated in more than 100 depositions.
But Trump has also gone into court hearings on the fly before, including a 2016 deposition tied the lawsuit he’d filed against a chef who backed out of a deal to open a restaurant at his new Washington, D.C. hotel. “I would say virtually nothing,” Trump replied when asked how much he’d prepared for the questioning. “I spoke with my counsel for a short period of time. I just arrived here, and we proceeded to the deposition.”
The president’s lawyers are still insisting Mueller only get one opportunity to interview Trump. As for the timing, Giuliani conceded the schedule could still be pushed back beyond the summer if the special counsel’s investigation keeps expanding.
On Wednesday, for example, the lawyer for Jason Sullivan, a social media consultant based in Southern California who worked on a pro-Trump super PAC run by Roger Stone, confirmed he has received subpoenas for documents and his testimony.
“If there’s a lot of places to go and a lot more interviews to do we’re not going to have an interview, not now,” Giuliani said. “Look these interviews should be at the end. Frankly they shouldn’t want it until the end.”
Giuliani said he now believes the prospects of Mueller subpoenaing Trump for an interview — a prospect the special counsel’s team had previously raised with Trump’s former lawyer, John Dowd — have cooled.
“It is possible if he does subpoena him and we do have a subpoena battle then Mueller is on the job for another year,” Giuliani said. “And he doesn’t want that, I don’t think.”