Updated at 2:13 p.m. ET
President Trump has completed written answers to questions about the Russia investigation from Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.
The president told reporters on Friday that he wrote the answers, not his lawyers, and that he did so “very easily.”
Trump said he suspected some of the questions were designed to be pitfalls and catch him in a “perjury trap” — to induce to him to lie about things for which prosecutors might already have contradictory evidence.
“I’m sure they’re tricked up,” Trump said. Witnesses must be careful with questions designed “by people who probably have bad intentions,” he also said.
Trump said that he just finished the questions but had not actually submitted them to the special counsel’s office. Although its investigation is a “hoax,” he said, Trump also said he has heard it will probably wrap up soon and that “I’m sure it would be fine.”
The special counsel’s office and the Justice Department hadn’t made any comment on Friday as Washington waited on tenterhooks for the next milestone in the saga.
Mueller’s office is investigating whether anyone in Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russians who attacked the 2016 presidential election. To that end, it has been negotiating for months with the White House over how, when and where Trump might address questions about his role in the matter.
Trump’s lawyers counseled him strongly not to agree to sit down with Mueller and investigators in person, although the president has never publicly ruled out that he might do so.
It isn’t clear now whether, when Trump submits his written answers to the special counsel’s office, that will end the discussion or Mueller might still want to hear from the president in person.
The phone call
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., hosted a meeting with a Russian delegation in 2016 after receiving an offer via intermediaries of damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Although the Trump family has changed its story about the meeting, the president’s position since has been that Trump Jr. did nothing wrong and that it is fair game in politics to meet with people who make these kinds of offers.
At the same time, Trump has said he did not authorize or know about the meeting beforehand. The special counsel’s investigators likely want him to address that for the record in their questions.
Congressional investigators asked Trump Jr. about the contacts he was making in the early summer of 2016 as he set up the Trump Tower meeting in New York City. He made two phone calls to a blocked number. Trump Jr. told lawmakers he didn’t remember whom he called. Other witnesses said that Trump Sr. used a blocked number.
If investigators were to establish that Trump Jr. had called his father at the time he was scheduling the meeting with the Russians, it might undercut the president’s denials. And if the president declined to answer a question about that to Mueller under penalty of perjury, that too could be suggestive.
The world has changed for Trump and Washington since The New York Times first reported an account of the questions that Mueller wanted to ask the president.
For one thing, a number of Trump world insiders have become cooperating witnesses in the ongoing federal investigations into Russia and other subjects.
Trump’s onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been meeting with the special counsel’s investigators. Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, also is cooperating. Both men have pleaded guilty to federal charges in exchange for leniency if they provide information that prosecutors want.
So the body of evidence available to Mueller’s office and other investigators is greater than it was when negotiations began with Trump over responding to questions.
With no additional information about the precise topics that Mueller’s office addressed in its questions for Trump, however, there’s no way to know how much they might have covered the latest understanding about the Russia case or whether they reflected Mueller’s awareness from much earlier this year.