Mueller: Can he subpoena the president?
The “slow-motion showdown” between President Trump and Robert Mueller “has entered a new phase,” said Philip Ewing in NPR.org: “A knife fight over how, when, or whether the two men may meet for an interview.” Having initially claimed he’d be happy to answer the special counsel’s questions, Trump appears much less enthusiastic of late, and says he’ll only agree if the terms are “fair.” But it emerged last week that Mueller has told the president’s legal team that if Trump refuses a voluntary interview, he’ll subpoena him to testify in front of a grand jury—where he’d have no lawyers present. Rudy Giuliani, one of the president’s new lawyers, is claiming Trump could ignore a subpoena because of executive privilege. But most legal experts doubt that. When President Nixon refused to comply with a subpoena demanding the missing Watergate tapes, the Supreme Court unanimously ordered him to turn them over. Giuliani also suggested that Trump could “invoke his Fifth Amendment rights” to avoid answering Mueller’s questions. But that refusal would be exploited by the president’s opponents as evidence he has something to hide.
Trump is perfectly entitled to ignore a subpoena, said Andrew McCarthy in NationalReview.com. The job of the presidency is too “critical” for the commander-in-chief to waste time with an investigative fishing expedition. While executive privilege can be overridden in exceptional circumstances, the special counsel’s probe doesn’t meet that standard—Mueller has produced no “evidence of a serious crime,” and he could almost certainly gather the information he seeks from “alternative sources.” On the contrary, said The Baltimore Sun in an editorial. When President Clinton said he was too busy to answer questions in Paula Jones’ civil lawsuit, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected his argument and ordered him to testify. And many of Mueller’s questions—including what was Trump’s intent in firing FBI Director James Comey—only the president himself can answer. The public deserves to hear what he has to say.
Mueller may have the law on his side—but not time, said Jonathan Karl in Axios.com. A protracted legal battle over a subpoena would give the president and his allies months to “undermine” and hamper the investigation. For that reason, Mueller will probably blink first, and agree to accept written answers from Trump. If he doesn’t, and neither side budges, it “could trigger a crisis with dangerous and unpredictable consequences.”