On Thursday night, President Donald Trump's lawyer suggested he's seeking a new legal path in negotiations with special counsel Robert Mueller: two sets of negotiations over questioning the president.
Calling the proposal "a neat compromise," Rudy Giuliani said the president's lawyers were now seeking to negotiate, first, a set of questions that would cover only preelection activity — what he refers to as Mueller's core mandate of investigating "Russian collusion."
Saying that the special counsel's office is "empowered to deal with" that topic directly and noting that "[t]hey do have a bunch of Russians indicted," Giuliani said the special counsel's office has "a better argument for that [interview], legally and factually."
"We have said we would agree to written questions on Russia after we review questions but no further commitment on interviews," Giuliani wrote in a description of the latest offer to Mueller.
"We answer those questions," he said, and then there would either be some "good faith" established "or a set of problems."
Either way, Giuliani said, "Then, with that knowledge, we can negotiate a second route" as to how to handle Mueller's questions about things that have happened since Trump took office — including the firing of ex-FBI director James Comey and Trump's criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, among other topics. Giuliani describes this portion as the "obstruction" part of the investigation.
"For now no commitment on obstruction [questions], which are post-presidential matters, but [we] will agree to talk after the collusion/pre-presidential questions are over," Giuliani wrote of the latest offer to Mueller.
Of his "neat compromise," Giuliani said, "The best legal analysis is: They’ll get what we’re offering."
The analysis he provides to support that — arguments Trump's legal team has been making to Mueller and reporters previously — is that they have "a bunch of arguments" to oppose questions about the obstruction of justice investigation. These include the argument that Trump's firing of Comey couldn't be obstruction because he had the authority to fire Comey at will — an argument that is questioned by some if he did so with the intention of harming the investigation — and the argument that the president "can't be indicted," a reflection of longstanding Justice Department policy but not established constitutional law.
The Associated Press earlier Thursday reported that Giuliani said obstruction-related questions were a "no-go," but Giuliani told BuzzFeed News that only referred to his position as to the first set of questions — not total opposition to Mueller asking Trump about those issues.
"They have his answers [on the obstruction-related issues]," Giuliani said, referring to Trump's public statements. "They just don’t have them under oath. We’re not going to give him any other facts on obstruction.
"If they could show us some areas where we don’t have the information, we might be open to discussing it."
It was not clear how close this latest offer in the months-long negotiation was to the possibility of resolution, and it also was unclear — given the timing of the latest move, which Giuliani shared with the media one day before the so-called "unwritten 60-day rule" that could mean a pullback of new public moves from Mueller's team through the election — whether the latest signs mean that both sides expect the negotiation to continue past the November elections.
Giuliani had been hoping — or at least telling reporters — that he was expecting Mueller to be done with the obstruction part of his investigation, at least, by Sept. 1.
The latest offer, which would put off any questions about Trump's conduct in office, seems to signify a shift in strategy that might be larger than just the legal team's longstanding waffling on the interview issue.