CAPITOL HILL - Special counsel Robert Mueller is now looking to interview President Donald Trump about his firing last year of former FBI Director James Comey and onetime National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, part of Mueller's ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Mueller is investigating whether Trump obstructed justice when, as Comey says, Trump in early 2017 asked him to drop his probe of Flynn's contacts with Russia's then-ambassador to Washington in the weeks before Trump took office a year ago, and then months later fired Comey, who at the time was heading the FBI's Russia probe.
U.S. news accounts say it is not known whether Trump, who repeatedly has rejected suggestions his campaign colluded with Russian interests to help win the election, will agree to the interview, when it might occur, or in what format it be might conducted, with written questions or an in-person question-and-answer session.
'Looking forward' to probe questions
Months ago, Trump said he would "100 percent" agree to meet with Mueller's investigators, but more recently questioned why any interview would be needed since there was "no collusion."
On Wednesday, he again said he would be willing to answer any questions under oath. "I am looking forward to it," Trump told reporters at the White House, adding, "I would love to do it."
Mueller's request to Trump's lawyers to ask Trump about his dismissal of Flynn for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, his talks with Comey about dropping the Flynn investigation, and his later ouster of Comey suggests that Mueller is now focused on the obstruction issue.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, told reporters, "The special counsel is inexorably climbing a ladder of criminal culpability and is nearing the Oval Office. The questions put to [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions [in an interview last week] have to implicate the president of the United States. All roads, all leads, all lines of inquiry lead to Donald Trump."
Trump has denied making the demand of Comey to drop his Flynn investigation, calling it a "lie."
U.S. law makes it a crime to obstruct justice, or hinder an "official proceeding."
Legal experts say that while a sitting president can't be prosecuted for obstruction of justice or any other crime, the charge of obstruction can be used by Congress to impeach a president, if it decides to pursue such a case.
Former President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, in part for obstruction of justice, while one of three articles of impeachment brought against Richard Nixon in 1974 alleged obstruction of justice. Clinton was acquitted in a Senate trial, while Nixon resigned as the corruption case mounted against him.
A day after Trump fired Comey last May, the U.S. leader told Russian officials in a White House meeting that Comey was "crazy, a real nut job” and that he had relieved "great pressure" on himself with Comey's dismissal. Days later, Trump told a television interviewer he ousted the FBI chief because of "this Russia thing."
But shortly thereafter, Mueller, over Trump's objections, was appointed to take control of the Russia probe.
Mueller's investigation into the Russian election interference now has reached into Trump's Cabinet, with the interview of Sessions, who himself met with Kislyak while he was a U.S. senator and a Trump campaign advocate, and later played a role in Comey's firing. Comey was interviewed weeks ago.
Trump has responded that the Mueller investigation and congressional probes into Russian election meddling are a hoax perpetrated by Democrats looking to explain his upset victory over his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Trump and Republican colleagues in Congress increasingly have accused the FBI of bias in pursuing the Trump investigation and its dropping without charges of a 2016 probe into Clinton's handling of classified material on a private email server while she was the country's top diplomat from 2009 to 2013.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that shortly after Trump ousted Comey, the president had a get-to-know-you meeting with Andrew McCabe, the FBI's acting director, and asked him whom he voted for in the 2016 election.
McCabe said he didn't vote in the election. But the Post said Trump vented his anger at McCabe, a longtime FBI official, for the fact that his wife had received $700,000 in campaign donations for her unsuccessful 2015 state Senate race in Virginia from a political action committee controlled by a close friend of Clinton.
Trump has complained in Twitter comments about McCabe and his wife's Democratic fundraising.