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Cooper: Collusion questions won't go away

CNN's Anderson Cooper rebuts President Donald Trump's tweets stating special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is a "witch hunt" and that there are no questions about collusion with Russia.

Posted: May 3, 2018 4:30 AM
Updated: May 3, 2018 4:30 AM

Donald Trump and Robert Mueller look ready to go to war.

It was always theoretically possible that the Russia investigation could end with the President and the special counsel on either side of a constitutional showdown. But a breakneck sequence of events over the last two days may have made the nightmare scenario increasingly likely.

Trump, the rule-breaking President who relishes throwing punches, has restocked his legal bench and now has a defense team that might better reflect his aggressive tendencies.

After saying he'd love to sit down with Mueller, he now seems to be backing away. And his White House is right behind him -- branding the special counsel's probe a "witch hunt" in an official news release.

The President is also escalating the political heat around the Mueller investigation, seeking to rile up supporters, who he has been priming for months as a firewall against any eventual impeachment fight.

"There was no Collusion (it is a Hoax) and there is no Obstruction of Justice (that is a setup & trap)," Trump tweeted Wednesday.

Mueller, the publicity-shy prosecutor and Marine combat veteran who has spent a lifetime pursuing justice, is also showing his steel.

Sources told CNN he's raised the possibility of subpoenaing the President if Trump doesn't agree to an interview -- determined to get the testimony he needs to complete his comprehensive investigation.

That's an approach that could escalate the standoff with the President into an epochal Supreme Court drama with massive political reverberations -- which many experts think Trump would lose.

"It clearly is crunch time with regards to the Mueller investigation," former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room" on Wednesday.

"I think they have reached a point where, very frankly, they are not going to be able to conclude this investigation without the testimony of the President of the United States," he said.

Hardball

Trump has been frustrated for months that his legal team has counseled him against his flamethrower approach to the Mueller probe.

On Wednesday he said goodbye to Ty Cobb, an attorney who was uncomfortable with the President's combustible strategy, and replaced him with Emmet Flood, a Bill Clinton impeachment lawyer.

The move, following the arrival of Rudy Giuliani and Jane and Martin Raskin, did more than rebuff the idea that the President can't lure big legal names; it signaled a much more adversarial approach to Mueller.

Marc Mukasey, a longtime ally of Giuliani's, also is in talks to possibly join Trump's legal team, according to sources familiar with the matter, though they cautioned that no final decision has been made.

"Playing nice hasn't gotten them anywhere," a source told CNN's Sara Murray. The source also described Giuliani as a "professional assassin."

Indeed, Giuliani went after Mueller's probe as well as former FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday night in an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, but he also revealed that Trump had reimbursed his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, the $130,000 in hush money that was used to pay porn actress Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about her claims of an affair with Trump a decade ago.

Trump previously has denied knowledge of the payment, which has since spurred a lawsuit against the President.

Another brass-knuckle operator, Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, told CNN on Wednesday that Trump had tired of a team that repeatedly assured him the probe was nearly done.

"They told the President that the investigation was going to end originally in November of last year, then December and then January," Lewandowski told CNN's Jim Sciutto on "The Lead."

"It is still going, and the President obviously wants someone to come in and look at it," Lewandowski said.

Mueller's next move

The idea that Trump has suddenly got tough might strike some on Mueller's team as ironic given the months of vitriolic tweets aimed their way.

But if the President is dedicated to a more adversarial posture, it is unlikely to faze their relentless boss. Sources told CNN that in a meeting with the President's lawyers, Mueller had raised the prospect of compelling Trump's testimony if he did not voluntarily agree to talk.

Michael Hayden, who ran the CIA and the National Security Agency when Mueller helmed the FBI, said the special counsel's character dictated that he eliminate every lead.

"One of the things I think Bob feels as if he has got to do when we get to the end of this dark cloud hanging over us, no matter which way it goes, he needs to be able to say, 'I have been exhaustive,' " Hayden said. "I think Director Mueller really wants to make sure he pulls over all rocks."

Just because Mueller is determined to get Trump's testimony, it does not necessarily mean that he thinks the President is guilty of a crime or an impeachable offense.

Prosecutors often use interviews with people involved in an investigation to rule out theories or close off lines of inquiry. Mueller's willingness to obtain a subpoena could also be a bargaining chip as he tries to get the President to voluntarily sit down with him.

Given the highly sensitive political circumstances, many analysts believe that Mueller will go the extra mile to find an arrangement that accommodates the President and his lawyers.

Giuliani on Wednesday laid out a tough offer in an interview with The Washington Post, saying any encounter need be no longer than "two to three hours."

That is unlikely to satisfy Mueller, especially if the list of questions drawn up by Trump's legal team and published in The New York Times represents an accurate picture of what he wants to ask.

'The questions are an intrusion'

Given the escalating stakes, Trump's tweets on the Mueller probe Wednesday were particularly intriguing.

He tested out a legal argument that Mueller's approach violates the Constitution and a political narrative that it's a distraction from the crucial work of the presidency.

"The questions are an intrusion into the President's Article 2 powers under the Constitution to fire any Executive Branch Employee," the President tweeted, quoting a supporter, lawyer Joseph diGenova.

Speaking on the Michael Smerconish show on Sirius XM on Monday, diGenova also said Mueller would be guilty of "outrageous, sophomoric" and "juvenile" behavior if he asked what Trump was thinking when he fired FBI Director James Comey.

But to prove obstruction of justice, a prosecutor must establish that an act was carried out with corrupt intent. So in this case it would be incumbent on Mueller to understand the President's state of mind when he fired Comey.

"You have to get in his head in order to do that. That's what he is doing that is eminently reasonable, and no one can really question him for that," said Andrew Stoltmann, a prominent white-collar defense lawyer in Chicago.

Trump's claim that he is in the clear since he had constitutional authority to fire Comey does not absolve him of obstruction of justice charges, either.

"The mere fact that the President can fire someone -- and he clearly can fire the FBI director -- doesn't mean that the firing is lawful," said Stoltmann.

'This isn't some game'

Many of Trump's supporters have long wished he would quit commenting on his legal situation -- because he often seems to dig himself in deeper.

They often cite the example of Clinton, who repeatedly stressed how hard he was working for the American people in winning the battle of public opinion and surviving impeachment.

Trump did step up his efforts to combat his legal vulnerability with a political weapon.

He quoted one of his former lawyers in a conversation with Mueller reported by The Washington Post.

" 'This isn't some game. You are screwing with the work of the president of the United States.' John Dowd, March 2018," Trump tweeted. "With North Korea, China, the Middle East and so much more, there is not much time to be thinking about this, especially since there was no Russian 'Collusion.' "

Trump's complaint that he is too busy to testify will likely not cut much ice legally: In 1997 the Supreme Court ruled that Clinton's argument that he was too busy to give testimony in the Paula Jones civil suit had no merit.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 926931

Reported Deaths: 9740
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1809132056
Ramsey749811054
Dakota68505591
Anoka64961589
Washington41119367
Stearns34021287
St. Louis29939416
Scott26281188
Wright26260226
Olmsted22677131
Sherburne19206130
Carver1687671
Clay12219108
Blue Earth1162171
Rice11578139
Crow Wing11318124
Chisago1005281
Kandiyohi9913108
Otter Tail9908130
Benton9174128
Beltrami8249100
Goodhue822699
Douglas7967101
Itasca779999
Mower740049
McLeod723384
Winona715158
Isanti711085
Steele695034
Morrison678681
Becker631675
Polk608987
Freeborn569947
Carlton552577
Mille Lacs539479
Lyon532961
Nicollet528561
Nobles527954
Pine521143
Cass505255
Todd496443
Brown473661
Le Sueur464736
Meeker437960
Martin391344
Waseca381433
Wabasha380110
Dodge366412
Hubbard357649
Roseau320532
Fillmore310115
Wadena306040
Redwood283845
Houston275317
Renville271651
Faribault261835
Sibley256017
Pennington254830
Kanabec254437
Cottonwood232933
Aitkin225052
Chippewa222043
Pope209910
Watonwan201121
Yellow Medicine189925
Koochiching179225
Rock178429
Swift174124
Stevens170211
Jackson162016
Clearwater159421
Marshall154822
Murray152911
Pipestone150929
Lake134124
Lac qui Parle124425
Wilkin122016
Mahnomen108314
Norman10579
Grant102410
Big Stone9585
Lincoln8915
Kittson74623
Red Lake71810
Traverse6086
Unassigned563124
Lake of the Woods5285
Cook3141

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 532160

Reported Deaths: 7379
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk81677809
Linn32838430
Scott27126295
Black Hawk22334382
Woodbury20736263
Johnson20150108
Dubuque18996243
Pottawattamie16215214
Dallas15573115
Story1398059
Warren8637107
Cerro Gordo8141125
Clinton7928115
Webster7419124
Des Moines7153106
Marshall675494
Muscatine6717117
Wapello6546145
Unassigned64520
Jasper630591
Sioux622477
Lee5977106
Marion567697
Buena Vista503449
Plymouth493388
Henry427155
Benton414760
Jones413564
Bremer403873
Boone397042
Washington395464
Carroll373355
Mahaska372366
Crawford355647
Jackson324047
Dickinson317555
Buchanan312743
Delaware303255
Clay297636
Kossuth293477
Fayette290356
Hardin289253
Tama282878
Page276133
Wright270050
Cedar269527
Winneshiek267744
Hamilton262757
Floyd261049
Clayton252360
Poweshiek242043
Harrison240979
Madison237425
Butler237346
Cass235667
Iowa234336
Jefferson228544
Mills225330
Hancock222840
Winnebago222339
Cherokee217347
Appanoose210157
Lyon209842
Allamakee209456
Calhoun199519
Shelby199542
Union197141
Humboldt188231
Franklin188031
Grundy186137
Chickasaw184522
Mitchell184343
Emmet180146
Louisa178653
Sac175626
Guthrie169338
Clarke163629
Montgomery163146
Keokuk152639
Palo Alto152332
Howard150624
Monroe144340
Ida134141
Greene128818
Davis126825
Lucas126127
Monona124940
Worth12309
Pocahontas122125
Adair118239
Osceola105718
Decatur104813
Taylor100914
Fremont98913
Van Buren95922
Wayne86125
Ringgold78429
Audubon77617
Adams5869
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