U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has informed the White House that he probably will seek to interview President Donald Trump as part of his probe into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, U.S. media are reporting.
Citing "people familiar with the matter," media reported late on January 8 that Mueller's investigative team informed Trump's lawyers during recent discussions that an interview likely would be sought soon, but no date has been set and no arrangements for the meeting have been made.
White House officials view the discussion as a sign that Mueller's investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is nearing an end stage, media reported.
In a previous special counsel probe involving former President Bill Clinton, the president was among the last to face questioning. Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia and have pledged to fully cooperate with Mueller's investigation.
Trump did not rule out the possibility of being questioned by Mueller when asked about it at a news conference on January 6.
"There's been no collusion. There's been no crime," he said. "But we have been very open."
"We could have done it two ways. We could have been very closed and it would have taken years," Trump said. "But you know, it's sort of like, when you've done nothing wrong, let's be open and get it over with."
A statement from White House lawyer Ty Cobb on January 8 said the White House doesn't discuss its conversations with Mueller, but it is continuing to cooperate "in order to facilitate the earliest possible resolution" of the Russia investigation.
While Trump claims to be innocent of any crimes, officials said any interview with Mueller nevertheless would carry risks for the president, who has admitted using what he has called “truthful hyperbole” or “innocent exaggeration” at times.
Mueller has already brought charges against four former Trump aides, all of whom face accusations of lying during their interviews with authorities.
Given the dangers of speaking with Mueller's investigators in person, several news organizations reported that Trump's lawyers prefer that he be allowed to answer questions in writing.
While Mueller's principal mission since being appointed in May has been to determine whether Trump aides colluded with Russia during the campaign, media have reported that Mueller also has been investigating whether Trump sought to obstruct the investigation through various moves, including through his firing of former FBI Director James Comey, who was leading the probe before Mueller was appointed.
Obstruction of justice is a crime in the United States. Comey has said that Trump sought to interfere in his investigation. He testified last year that several months before he was dismissed, Trump told him he hoped he would end his investigation into his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Trump has denied asking Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn, who was one of the Trump aides who was indicted at the end of last year. Flynn is now reported to be cooperating with Mueller's probe.
Mueller's team recently concluded a series of interviews with current and former top White House aides, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
With reporting by AP, The New York Times, NBC News, and The Washington Post