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Trump's legal team claims broad executive privilege in leaked confidential memo

President Donald Trump gestures toward journalists shouting questions as he departs the White House May 29, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images
President Donald Trump gestures toward journalists shouting questions as he departs the White House May 29, 2018 in Washington, DC.

President Donald Trump's legal team has made a broad assertion of executive privilege in a bid to avert a subpoena by the special counsel investigating the president's conduct with respect to Russia, according to a confidential memo obtained by The New York Times.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is probing allegations that Trump may have obstructed the inquiry into Russia influence over the 2016 election. The memo — the contents of which The Times published in full on Saturday — cites Trump's lawyers arguing that the president "could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself, and that he could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired."

The letter, which was not independently verified by CNBC, was authored by John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, lawyers that have since departed Trump's legal team. The memo's disclosure comes as Trump's lead counsel, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, has stated publicly that Mueller's probe into obstruction charges could be wrapped up by September. However, separate reports have cast doubt on that assertion.

Rudy Giuliani, attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives for the White House Sports and Fitness Day event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, May 30, 2018.
Leah Mills | Reuters
Rudy Giuliani, attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives for the White House Sports and Fitness Day event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, May 30, 2018.

'Considerable burden'

The Times noted that Trump's lawyers are worried that submitting to questioning under oath would expose the president to charges of lying, a possible crime for which he could be impeached. Giuliani himself has raised fears that Trump could be "walking into a trap" by consenting to be interviewed by Mueller's team.

The 20-page document took aim the probe itself, as well as the executive agencies overseeing it — critiques that Trump himself renewed on Saturday, calling the probe a "witch hunt" and accusing his the FBI and Department of Justice for orchestrating the leak.

Trump's lawyers stated that "the Special Counsel's inquiry has been and remains a considerable burden for the President and his Office, has endangered the safety and security of our country, and has interfered with the President's ability to both govern domestically and conduct foreign affairs."

It added: "This encumbrance has been only compounded by the astounding public revelations about the corruption within the FBI and Department of Justice which appears to have led to the alleged Russia collusion investigation and the establishment of the Office of Special Counsel in the first place."