Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is planning to interview up to a dozen White House aides in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with the investigation, but no request has yet been made to question President Donald Trump.
While it’s not clear exactly which current aides are to be interviewed, not all are “the marquee names you would think,” according to one person involved in the case, indicating Mueller could be starting lower down the food chain in the West Wing and moving up.
Still, the upcoming interviews are a sign that the FBI’s wide-ranging probe into the Trump White House and campaign is intensifying.
Beyond White House staff, Mueller and his team are expected soon to question others on the Trump campaign and former senior officials in the White House, these people said. The interviews are not expected to be in front of the grand jury, the people added.
Among the aides likely to be interviewed are former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, interim communications director Hope Hicks, former press secretary Sean Spicer, chief counsel Don McGahn. The Washington Post reported earlier Friday afternoon that Spicer, Priebus and Hicks are likely to be interviewed.
Mueller’s team has also requested documents from the White House related to former FBI Director James Comey’s firing, meetings during the campaign and in the White House with any Russians, including former Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, along with documents related to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to advisers and aides familiar with the document requests.
White House lawyers have talked with the special counsel’s office frequently as the investigation has heated up, these people say.
The interviews involve high stakes for White House staff, some of whom still don’t have personal lawyers, as they face the risk of perjury and a test of their loyalty to the president. But they also provide White House officials with a more aggressive chance to tell their story, particularly around the firing of Comey and the crafting of a statement on Air Force One about a meeting in Trump Tower last year that included Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Kremlin-linked lawyer promising dirt about Hillary Clinton.
One person involved in the case said that investigators are still in the early stages of understanding certain events — and that the White House legal team “feels good” about the case so far.
Ty Cobb, a Trump lawyer, said the White House is cooperating with the probe but declined to offer a comment on the specifics of the investigation.
“Out of respect for the special counsel and his process, the White House doesn’t comment on specific requests for documents and interviews,” Cobb said in a statement Thursday night.
So far, Cobb has told others the White House believes much of the damage will be related to Flynn and Manafort — and that his legal team believes they are in good standing with Mueller’s office.
Mueller’s office declined to comment.
To veteran prosecutors, Mueller’s interest in talking with a wide range of current and former White House and Trump campaign aides isn’t that surprising.
“If you’re going to do a thorough investigation witnesses to what happened are the ones you want to talk to,” said Robert Ray, a former Whitewater independent counsel. “That’s what you’d expect a thorough investigation to be doing.”
He noted that Mueller’s interest in talking with any current or former Trump White House aides will raise “some difficult questions” about his ability to probe internal conversations. “The White House is going to be faced with the obvious rejoinder: do they make those people freely available or do they exert executive privilege?” Ray said.
The meeting on Air Force One is said to be of particular interest to investigators because it involves a number of White House aides — and the president — working on a statement about a meeting with Russians that proved to be misleading. White House officials have said Trump’s involvement was more limited than has been portrayed in the news media, but the incident involves a number of his closest staffers and family members, including Hicks and son-in-law Kushner.
Investigators are also interested in whether any particular event triggered the Comey firing — and what the president said in the days leading up to the firing, according to people familiar with the case. The White House has consistently argued that Trump had the right to fire the FBI director, and that Comey’s conduct in the Clinton email investigation was reason enough for termination.
Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this report.
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