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Trump lawyers turn to controversial 1994 Espy investigation that could provide cover in Russia probe

Trump lawyers turn to controversial 1994 Espy investigation that could provide cover in Russia probe

Trump lawyers turn to controversial 1994 Espy investigation that could provide cover in Russia probeCLOSE President Trump ref…

Trump lawyers turn to controversial 1994 Espy investigation that could provide cover in Russia probe

Trump lawyers turn to controversial 1994 Espy investigation that could provide cover in Russia probeCLOSE

President Trump refused to commit to an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation. Veuer's Sam Berman has the full story.

WASHINGTON â€" President Trump's lawyers are closely examining a 24-year-old investigation of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy as they negotiate the terms of the president's possible interview with Russia special counsel Robert Mueller's team and related requests for White House documents, three officials familiar with the matter said.

Trump's legal team is in early talks with federal investigators about a possible interview with the presi dent related to the wide-ranging investigation into Russia's election interference and possible collusion with Trump associates. Mueller's team is also investigating whether the president tried to obstruct justice in the Russia probe.

As the Trump legal team negotiates the scope of the possible interview, the contentious 1994 independent counsel investigation of Espy has become a roadmap for their discussions, according to the officials, who were not authorized to speak on the record about preliminary talks with the special counsel's office.

The high-profile Espy case featured a protracted battle over White House documents and was a legal test over how far presidential privilege could extend when potential crimes are at stake. And it could have implications for some of the most sensitive aspects of Mueller's inquiry, including the examination into possible obstruction of justice related to the abrupt dismissal of former FBI director James Comey and f ormer national security adviser Michael Flynn.

More: Mueller team in early talks for possible interview with President Trump

In the Espy case, an appellate court concluded that the Clinton White House's claim of presidential privilege â€" the central argument for withholding dozens of documents prosecutors requested â€" was sound.

The court ruled that the White House's request to keep some documents private not only applied to direct communications involving the president â€" but extended to his advisers as they gathered information to inform the commander-in-chief about the potential legal jeopardy facing his Agriculture secretary at the time.

Espy was eventually acquitted of corruption charges related to his acceptance of travel and other gifts, and the court ruling helped provide political and legal cover for the Clinton administration.

Trump has declined to commit to a meeting with Mueller, claiming as recently as Wednes day that his testimony isn't necessary for an investigation that he characterized as a "Democrat hoax."

"Certainly, I'll see what happens," Trump said after a meeting with Norway's prime minister. "When...nobody's found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview." This is in contrast to Trump's comments in June, when he said that he would provide sworn testimony if asked.

More: Trump declines to commit to Mueller interview for Russia probe

Two of the officials are now saying the "Espy standard" should apply to not just to document demands but to any other evidence prosecutors seek from the president, including testimony.

Trump's testimony about the Comey and Flynn firings could be key for Mueller's investigation.

The Trump White House originally said it dismissed Comey in May on the recommendation of Justice Department leadership, because of his controversial handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server when she was secretary of State. Days later, Trump said in a television interview that the Russia investigation was indeed on his mind when he fired Comey â€" and that he would have made the decision regardless of Justice's recommendations.

Comey, after he was dismissed from the White House, testified that Trump pressured him to drop part the investigation into Flynn in a private dinner in February.

Last month, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and agreed to cooperate with the continuing federal investigation. Flynn is one of four former Trump campaign officials to face criminal charges in Mueller's inquiry.

More: How did we get here? A timeline of James Comey's FBI controversies

More: Yes, Donald Trump and other pre sidents can be charged with obstruction

If Espy case is any guide, the path toward any cooperation between Mueller's team and the Trump White House could be long and equally contentious.

Donald Smaltz, the independent counsel who oversaw the Espy inquiry, declined to comment. But a final report of his work detailed a legal battle that continued even after Espy was indicted. The indictment prompted the White House to argue at one point that the documents were no longer needed because charges had been filed.

The fight lasted more than 41 months after the White House received the initial grand jury subpoena. Ultimately, according to the Smaltz report, the White House produced many, but not all of the documents.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders declined to comment on the specifics of talks between Trump lawyers and Mueller's office, but said the president's team will be fully cooperative.

"The president and his personal attorney s are going to discuss this matter with the Office of the Special Counsel, not reporters," Sanders said. "And that will be the process that we follow."

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Trump and Pence depart Capitol Hill on Nov. 16, 2017, after the president spoke with House Republicans on tax legislation. Fullscreen Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, President Trump, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull link hands during the opening ceremony of the 31st ASEAN Summit in Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila on Nov. 13, 2017. Fullscreen Trump meets opera performers at the Forbidden City on Nov. 8, 2017, in Beijing, during a five-country t rip through Asia. Fullscreen First lady Melania Trump looks on as the president speaks with reporters before departing the White House for a trip to Asia on Nov. 3, 2017. Fullscreen Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrive for the Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 24, 2017. Fullscreen Trump answers questions with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Rose Garden after their meeting at the White House on Oct. 16, 2017. Fullscreen President Trump walks to the podium to make a statement about the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 2, 2017. Fullscreen Trump waves after arriving on Air Force One on Sept. 27, 2017, in Indianapolis to deliver a speech on tax reform. Fullscreen Trump speaks during the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York on Sept. 19, 2017. Fullscreen 11-year-old Frank "FX" Giaccio gets a pat on the back from Trump while mowing the lawn in the Rose Garden of the White House on Sept. 15, 2017. Giaccio wrote a letter to Trump expressing admiration for Trump's business background and offered to mow the White House lawn. Fullscreen The Trumps observe a moment of silence on Sept. 11, 2017, at the White House for the 16th anniversary of 9/11. Fullscreen Trump gestures to onlookers as he walks with first lady Melania Trump to board Marine One on the South Lawn on Sept. 8, 2017, en route to Camp David. Fullscreen President Trump boards Air Force One at Ellington Field on Sept. 2, 2017, before departing for Louisiana to continue their tour of areas affected by Hurricane Harvey. Fullscreen President Trump holds the state flag of Texas outside of the Annaville Fire House after attending a briefing on Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Aug. 29, 2017. Fullscreen The Trumps prepare to depart from the White House on Aug. 29, 2017, to head to Texas to observe Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Fullscreen Trump speaks at a rally in Phoenix on Aug. 22, 2017. Fullscreen The Trumps view the solar eclipse from the Truman Balcony of the White House on Aug. 21, 2017. Fullscreen Trump walks out of the elevator to speak to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower on Aug. 15, 2017, in New York. Fullscreen Trump pauses while speaking about the violence in Charlottesville, Va., in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Aug. 14, 2017. Fullscreen Trump arrives to speak at a rally in Huntington, W.Va., on Aug. 3, 2017. Fullscreen Trump arrives at Andrews Air Force Base after naming John Kelly as his new chief of staff on July 28, 2017. Fullscreen Trump, accompanied b y Vice President Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, speaks about health care on July 24, 2017, in the Blue Room of the White House. Fullscreen Trump, flanked by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks at a luncheon with GOP senators on July 19, 2017, in the State Dinning Room of the White House. Fullscreen Trump holds a proclamation for Made in America Day and Made In America Week that he signed during a product showcase in the East Room of the White House on July 17, 2017. Fullscreen French President Emmanuel Macron and Trump speak as they leave Les Invalides in Paris on July 13, 2017. Fullscreen Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. Fullscreen Trump walks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to make statements in the Rose Garden on June 30, 2017. Fullscreen President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi embrace while delivering joint statements in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 26, 2017. Fullscreen Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House on June 14, 2017, to talk about the shooting in Alexandria, Va., where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others were shot during a congressional baseball practice. Fullscreen Trump smiles as he walks with his daughter Ivanka across the South Lawn of the White House on June 13, 201 7, before boarding Marine One helicopter for the trip to nearby Andrews Air Force Base. Fullscreen Trump waves to the crowd after delivering a speech on June 7, 2017, in Cincinnati. Fullscreen Trump announces his decision for the United States to pull out of the Paris climate agreement in the Rose Garden at the White House on June 1, 2017. Fullscreen Trump joins G7 leaders for a photo at the Ancient Greek Theater of Taormina on May 26, 2017, in Taormina, Italy. Fullscreen Pope Francis greets Trump at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. Fullscreen The president and first lady step off Air Force One upon arrival at Rome's Fiumic ino Airport on May 23, 2017. Fullscreen Trump touches the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on May 22, 2017. Fullscreen Trump speaks during the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. Fullscreen Trump meets with Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office on May 10, 2017. Fullscreen President Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan and other congressional Republicans celebrate in the Rose Garden of the White House following the House vote to repeal Obamacare on May 4, 2017. Fullscreen Trump pauses as he speaks at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg, Pa., on April, 29, 2017. Fullscreen President Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association-ILA Leadership Forum on April 28, 2017, in Atlanta. Fullscreen Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke listens while Trump speaks before signing an executive order to review the Antiquities Act at the Department of the Interior on April 26, 2017. Fullscreen Trump prepares to award a Purple Heart to U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Alvaro Barrientos, with first lady Melania Trump, right, and Tammy Barrientos, second from right, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on April 22, 2017, in Bethesda, Md. Fullscreen Trump waves as he and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin walk from the White House to the U.S. Trea sury Department on April 21, 2017. Fullscreen New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, President Trump, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Patriots President Jonathan Kraft stand with Patriots players as Trump holds a team helmet at a ceremony honoring the Patriots as Super Bowl champions on the South Lawn at the White House on April 19, 2017. Fullscreen Trump joins attendees at the Easter Egg Roll to write notes to servicemembers on the South Lawn of the White House on April 17, 2017. Fullscreen Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 10, 2017, at the swearing-in ceremony for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Fullscreen Trump pumps his fist as he and Chinese President X i Jinping walk together at the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Fla., on April 7, 2017. Fullscreen President Trump walks to the podium to speak about the missile strike on Syria on April 6, 2017, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. Fullscreen President Trump and Jordan's King Abdullah II hold a news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House on April 5, 2017. Fullscreen President Trump, flanked by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Vice President Pence, speaks about the health care overhaul bill on March 24, 2017, in the Oval Office. Fullscreen Trump gets in the driver's seat of an 18-wheeler while meeting with truck drivers and trucking CEOs on the South Portico prior to their meeting to discuss health care at the White House on March 23, 2017. Fullscreen President Trump speaks during a meeting with Congressional Black Caucus members in the Cabinet Room at the White House on March 22, 2017. Fullscreen Trump holds a NASA flight jacket presented to him by NASA Astronaut Office Chief Chris Cassidy after signing the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 in the Oval Office on March 21, 2017. Fullscreen Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price arrive on Capitol Hill on March 21, 2017, to meet with GOP lawmakers on the Republican health care overhaul. Fullscreen Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel walk down the Cross Hall to enter the East Room for a joint press conference at the White House on March 17, 2017. Fullscreen Trump talks with House Speaker Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill on March 16, 2017, during a "Friends of Ireland" luncheon. Fullscreen Trump speaks to auto workers at the American Center for Mobility on March 15, 2017, in Ypsilanti, Mich. Fullscreen Trump holds up a note and drawing depicting him that was created by the child of Greg Knox of Ohio during a meeting on health care in the Roosevelt Room on March 13, 2017. Fullscreen Trump gestures as he surprises visitors during the official reopening of public tours at the White House on March 7, 2017. Fullscreen Trump walks with grandchildren Arabella Kushner and Joseph Kushner, holding a model of Marine One, across the South Lawn of the White House on March 3, 2017, before boarding Marine One helicopter for the short flight to nearby Andrews Air Force Base. Fullscreen Trump tours the Combat Direction Center on the pre-commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier in Newport News, Va., on March 2, 2017. Fullscreen President Trump speaks before a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017. Fullscreen Trump holds up an executive order to bolster historically black colleges and universities after signing it in the Oval Office on Feb. 28, 2017. Fullscreen Trump reaches out to shak e hands with Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., on Feb. 20, 2017, where Trump announced that McMaster will be the new national security adviser. Fullscreen The Trumps attend a campaign-style rally on Feb. 18, 2017, in Melbourne, Fla. Fullscreen President Trump walks with his grandchildren Arabella Kushner and Joseph Kushner to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Feb. 17, 2017. Fullscreen Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 15, 2017. Fullscreen Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos attend a meeting with parents and teachers on Feb. 14, 201 7, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Fullscreen Trump looks on as Steven Mnuchin is sworn in as Treasury secretary on Feb. 13, 2017. Fullscreen Trump meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office on Feb. 13, 2017. Fullscreen Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listen to the translator after they both made statements about North Korea at Mar-a-Lago on Feb. 11, 2017. Fullscreen President Trump speaks to Democratic and Republican senators about Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch in the Roosevelt Room on Feb. 9, 2017. Fullscreen Intel CEO Brian Krzanich speaks during a meeting with Trump o n Feb. 8, 2017, where Intel announced an investment of $7 billion to build a factory in Chandler, Ariz., to create advanced semi-conductor chips. Fullscreen Trump holds up a gift given to him by county sheriffs following a meeting as they pose for photos in the Oval Office on Feb. 7, 2017. Fullscreen President Trump has lunch with troops during a visit to the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base on Feb. 6, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. Fullscreen The Trumps watch the Super Bowl at a party at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Feb. 5, 2017. Fullscreen The Trumps arrive for the 60th Annual Red Cross Gala at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., on on Feb. 4, 2017. Fullscreen White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Vice President Pence look on as Trump speaks briefly to reporters after greeting Harley Davidson executives on the South Lawn of the White House on Feb. 2, 2017. Fullscreen Trump shakes hands with Neil Gorsuch, his Supreme Court nominee, in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 31, 2017. Fullscreen President Trump speaks on the phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Oval Office on Jan. 28, 2017. Fullscreen Trump shakes hands with Defense Secretary James Mattis during an event at the Pentagon on Jan. 27, 2017. Vice President Pence is at right. Fullscreen Trump greets British Prime Minister Theresa May as she arrives at the White House on Jan. 27, 2017. Fullscreen Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell watch as President Trump arrives to speak to House and Senate GOP lawmakers at the annual policy retreat in Philadelphia on Jan. 26, 2017. Fullscreen Trump boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Jan. 26, 2017, as he departed to attend a Republican congressional retreat in Philadelphia. Fullscreen Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, gives a thumbs-up on Jan. 25, 2017, at the White House. Fullscreen Trump reads from one of the executive orders he signed during a visit to the Departmen t of Homeland Security with Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and other officials in Washington on Jan. 25, 2017. Fullscreen Trump displays one of five executive actions he signed in the Oval Office on Jan. 24, 2017. Fullscreen Trump speaks during a reception for House and Senate leaders in the the State Dining Room of the White House on Jan. 23, 2017. Fullscreen Trump signs executive actions in the Oval Office on Jan. 23, 2017. Fullscreen Trump meets with business leaders on Jan. 23, 2017, in the Roosevelt Room. Fullscreen President Trump holds a letter left for him by former president Barack Obama as Vice President Pence looks on before the swearing-in of the White House senior staff on Jan. 22, 2017. Fullscreen Trump speaks at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., on Jan. 21, 2017. Fullscreen The Trumps and Pences attend the Freedom Ball on Jan. 20, 2017. Fullscreen Trump is joined by the congressional leadership and his family as he formally signs his cabinet nominations into law in the PresidentÂ's Room of the Senate on Jan. 20, 2017. Fullscreen Trump and Obama arrive for TrumpÂ''s inauguration luncheon at the Capitol. Fullscreen The Trumps and Obamas stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2017. Fullscreen Trump delivers his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 2017, on the west front of the U.S. Capitol FullscreenReplay
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