Mueller Positions for Trump Interview, as Lawyers Assess Risk of Investigation

The obstruction investigation focuses on whether Mr. Trump broke the law by asking Mr. Comey to end the investigation into Mr. Flynn and whether he fired Mr. Comey to try to hinder the F.B.I. investigation into Russia-related matters. Shortly after dismissing Mr. Comey in May, the president told Russian diplomats in an Oval Office meeting that doing so had relieved “great pressure” on him.

Mr. Trump has sat for depositions before and shown discipline when under oath. His testimony in civil cases reveals a canny ability to avoid being cornered and a frank acknowledgment that he uses “truthful hyperbole” or “innocent exaggeration.” But he has never faced questioning from someone like Mr. Mueller, a veteran prosecutor and former F.B.I. director who has a dozen experienced litigators behind him.

And the stakes have never been higher. President Bill Clinton was impeached on a perjury charge over his grand jury testimony about his relationship with a White House intern.

Solomon L. Wisenberg, one of the lawyers who questioned Mr. Clinton — prompting him to famously assert that his answer depended on what the meaning of “is” is — said Mr. Mueller would probably wait until his inquiry was nearly complete to question the president. Mr. Wisenberg said that while Mr. Trump often makes statements to the public that are inflammatory or untrue, the president has shown he can be disciplined, as he has curtailed his criticisms of Mr. Mueller in recent months.

“Trump has been on message about Mueller since Ty Cobb came in as his lawyer” in July, Mr. Wisenberg said. “It’s pretty clear when Ty Cobb came in, he tightened up the ship and had a talk with Trump and must have said: ‘You’re O.K. on collusion. Stop attacking Mueller directly.’”

Mr. Mueller will have three choices for questioning Mr. Trump: written questions, an interview with his investigators or a subpoena to appear before a grand jury. Legal experts said Mr. Mueller would almost certainly want to speak directly with Mr. Trump in person. They said Mr. Trump’s lawyers would want to prevent Mr. Mueller from putting Mr. Trump alone before a grand jury, where lawyers normally are not present.

“You want to be an active participant in the conversation,” Mr. Wisenberg said, adding that Mr. Trump’s lawyers would do all they could to show Mr. Mueller they were cooperating to prevent the special counsel from putting him before the grand jury.

Historically, presidents have been reluctant to speak with investigators looking into their conduct. During the investigation of Mr. Clinton, the independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr, served Mr. Clinton with a grand jury subpoena as part of an effort to compel him to testify. The subpoena set off negotiations between Mr. Starr and Mr. Clinton’s lawyers, which ultimately resulted in Mr. Clinton being questioned at the White House instead of a courthouse, where nearly all grand jury appearances occur.

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