U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues to investigate whether President Donald Trump attempted to block his probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but he has told Trump lawyers the president is not currently a "target" of the probe, media are reporting.
The Washington Post and AP, citing "people familiar with the discussion," reported on April 4 that Mueller has informed Trump's legal team that he does not view the president currently as a "target," meaning he is not currently a candidate for indictment on criminal charges.
But the news outlets said Trump remains a "subject" of Mueller's investigation into possible attempts to obstruct the investigation into Russian ties with the Trump campaign.
A "subject" is typically someone whose conduct is of interest to investigators, but prosecutors are not certain they've gathered enough evidence to bring charges.
Both the Post and AP said Trump's status could change at any time, depending on whether investigators gather enough evidence to support criminal charges.
The Post reported that Mueller "also told Trump's lawyers that he is preparing a report about the president's actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice."
The Post said Mueller has been seeking to interview Trump "to understand whether he had any corrupt intent to thwart the Russia investigation."
Evidence of corrupt intent is needed for U.S. prosecutors to bring obstruction of justice charges.
The AP said Mueller's prosecutors have told Trump's legal team they want to question Trump about two events early in his presidency as they investigate possible obstruction of justice: his dismissals of both former FBI Director James Comey and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Investigators have told media they want to hear Trump's version of conversations he had with Comey in which the former FBI director has said the president encouraged him to end an active investigation into Flynn's contacts with Russia.
They've also told media they are interested in the events leading up to Flynn's firing in February 2017 after only one month at the White House.
Investigators have said they want to hear from Trump to understand his intent and thinking during those events. Trump has publicly disputed Comey's version of the private conversations they had at the White House.
The Post said Mueller's assurance that Trump is not the "target" of a criminal probe may be a way of "baiting" Trump into thinking that he's free to sit down for an interview without fear of incriminating himself.
Trump has said he wants to speak with Mueller's team, but media have reported that his lawyers have counseled him against it.
Mueller's recent communications with Trump's lawyers also suggest that he may have concluded he does not have legal authority to indict a sitting president, the Post said.
In that case, it said, he may have decided to present a report on the obstruction of justice matter to the Justice Department and Congress, allowing them to decide whether to take action against Trump.
“If Mueller believes he has sufficient evidence to indict Trump, but cannot indict a sitting President, expect the report he writes to be sufficiently politically damaging to make impeachment the only option,” tweeted University of Alabama law professor Joyce Alene, who served as a U.S. attorney when Barack Obama was president.