President Trump on Friday said he has answered a set of questions from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III “very easily,” and his lawyers are signaling that the president expects to turn over his written answers in the coming days.
Trump stressed that he has been “busy” and that it has taken some time to complete the answers, but he also expressed his concern about Mueller’s purpose in obtaining them.
“You always have to be careful answering questions for people who probably have bad intentions,” he said of the team Mueller has assembled to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any possible coordination with Trump’s campaign. “I haven’t submitted them. I just finished them.”
The president’s comments, which he made to reporters gathered in the Oval Office for a bill signing, came after his lawyers postponed submitting his answers on Thursday, as they had considered doing.
With the midterm elections now over, Mueller faces key decision points in his 18-month-old investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign — a probe that has led to charges against 32 people, including 26 Russians. Four aides to Trump have pleaded guilty to various charges, most recently former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in September.
The special counsel’s team has not indicated publicly that it has drawn any conclusions about whether Trump associates conspired with the Russians or whether the president obstructed justice. Trump’s responses to a series of questions have been long sought by Mueller as part of his drafting of a confidential report expected to detail his overall findings.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, told The Washington Post on Thursday that the legal team was still deciding whether some of Mueller’s questions it agreed to answer in September would cause legal problems for the president.
According to people familiar with the delay, Trump’s lawyers believe they have now resolved the problem they faced.
Trump stressed Friday that he answered the questions personally, not his lawyers.
“My lawyers aren’t working on it. I’m working on it,” Trump said. “My lawyers don’t write the answers.”
The president has met with lawyers nearly every day this week in sessions to review his answers, including a four-hour session Wednesday that was frequently interrupted by other business. Trump spent more than four hours meeting with his attorneys Monday, broken up by phone calls the president had to take, and 90 minutes Wednesday night, according to people familiar with the sessions.
Trump also was asked Friday about recent tweets that seemed to betray a sense of frustration. He called the Mueller probe “illegal” and said, without evidence, that Mueller’s team was “screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want.”
“I’m not agitated,” he said Friday. “It’s a hoax.”
The questions, roughly two dozen focusing on five topics, all relate to issues before Trump won the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s lawyers have not yet agreed to answer a larger set of questions that relate to Trump’s time as president-elect and then as president, Giuliani said.
“There are some that create more issues for us legally than others,” Giuliani said Thursday. He said that some were “unnecessary,” some were “possible traps” and that “we might consider some as irrelevant.”
Giuliani said the special counsel has not imposed a firm deadline, but he added that Trump’s answers could be submitted Friday. Another person familiar with the effort said they expect Trump to turn over the answers before Thanksgiving.