President Donald Trump’s private lawyers are slated to meet with special counsel Robert Mueller and members of his team as soon as next week for what the President’s team considers an opportunity to gain a clearer understanding of the next steps in Mueller’s probe, according to sources familiar with the matter.
While the lawyers have met with Mueller’s team before and might again, the sources believe the upcoming meeting has greater significance because it comes after the completion of interviews of White House personnel requested by the special counsel and after all requested documents have been turned over. Mueller could still request more documents and additional interviews. No request to interview the President or the vice president has been made, sources tell CNN.
But Trump’s team, led by John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, is hoping for signs that Mueller’s investigation is nearing its end, or at least the part having to do with the President. Their goal is to help Trump begin to emerge from the cloud of the ongoing investigation, several of the sources explained. The sources acknowledge that Mueller is under no obligation to provide any information and concede they may walk away with no greater clarity.
“There’s no ‘there’ there,” one White House official says, a sentiment Trump’s legal team hopes Mueller will echo. At a minimum, the lawyers hope to get a sense of what avenues Mueller is still working to investigate.
The sources did not specify who requested the meeting.
The Trump team’s hopes for an investigation nearing its end contrast with a widely held view by other lawyers representing clients who have been interviewed. Those attorneys say that some of the questions asked by investigators suggest an inquiry with much more work left to be done.
Some of those questions focused on the Comey firing and efforts over the summer by White House officials, including the President, to issue a public statement in the name of Donald Trump Jr. about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians who promised information to undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Both lines of inquiry could indicate more work being done on whether anyone has tried to obstruct the criminal investigation, lawyers involved say.
Trump’s lawyers are finding one other hopeful sign: The special counsel has asked the White House for a limited scope of documents related to the President directly, largely having to do with the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, two of the sources familiar with the matter told CNN. That could indicate limited interest in Trump himself, the lawyers believe.
Despite impatience at the White House and among Republicans, the Mueller probe is moving at a relatively quick pace compared to typical white-collar criminal investigations that often stretch into years. After about seven months on the job, Mueller has already brought charges against four people, including two who have pleaded guilty to making false statements and are now cooperating with the investigation.
Other lawyers representing clients involved have a less optimistic timeline than the White House and think that based on the requests for documents and interviews, the special counsel investigation is likely to drag deep into next year and even beyond. The judge overseeing charges against Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, his deputy, scheduled a trial next spring, though the date could slip into later next year.
The most optimistic view on the probe has regularly come from Ty Cobb, who was hired as White House special counsel, to help manage interactions with the Mueller investigation. Cobb has overseen the production of tens of thousands of documents and helped coordinate more than a dozen interviews of current and former White House officials. Cobb has said he anticipates an early end to the investigation.
Earlier this week, White House Counsel Don McGahn sat for an interview with Mueller’s investigators, according to multiple sources. He was among the last of the White House employees to be interviewed, marking what Trump’s legal team views as an important milestone in the ongoing Russian meddling investigation.
“The White House interviews are completed,” Cobb told CNN Tuesday. “We remain hopeful for an appropriate and prompt conclusion.”
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.
McGahn is seen as an important witness, not only because he is White House counsel but also because he was the White House official who received a visit in the early days of the Trump administration from then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates to warn of potentially compromising information related to Russian contacts of then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. McGahn had conversations with the President and other officials about Flynn’s potential exposure.
White House officials and the President’s lawyers are dismissive of the idea that Mueller could charge Trump and others around him for obstruction of justice. Earlier this year, they provided Mueller’s team with arguments for why they believe that is not an issue, including their contention that Trump has the right to fire anyone in government.
CNN has reported that the Mueller team includes a group of lawyers and investigators who are assigned specifically to the question of obstruction of justice.