Rudy Giuliani wants limits for Trump interview in Russia probe

May 3 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's new chief lawyer said on Thursday that if his client agrees to an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, it should be limited to a few hours and focus on Russian tampering in the 2016 election.

Asked what questions might be appropriate, the lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor, suggested two to Reuters: "Was there some agreement with the Russians? Was there any meeting of Trump with the Russians?"

A former federal prosecutor, Giuliani said he was the president's new chief counsel in the Russia investigation but that he would also keep an eye on a U.S. inquiry into a $130,000 hush payment by longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen to a porn star who said she had a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

Giuliani said he wanted any Trump interview with Mueller to be limited in time and scope, suggesting for only 2-1/2 hours and not under oath.

In addition to the Russia questions, Giuliani said investigators could ask about possible obstruction of justice related to Trump's firing a year ago of then-FBI Director James Comey.

Key Trump officials, advisers of note in the Russia probe
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Key Trump officials, advisers of note in the Russia probe

Tom Barrack

The close friend to Donald Trump and CEO of private equity firm Colony Capital recommended that Trump bring in Paul Manafort for his presidential campaign.

R. James Woolsey

Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has cooperated with Mueller's investigation and worked with Michael Flynn and was present at a meeting where they discussed removing the controversial Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen from US soil. 

(Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The former senior Trump campaign official and White House adviser was present and crucial during the firings of Michael Flynn and James Comey.

The former head of the Trump transition team following the 2016 election has said previously that he believes he was fired due to his opposing the hiring of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

Michael Flynn

Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

Donald Trump

2016 election winner Donald Trump is at the center of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's handlings.

Sam Clovis

Clovis, a former member of the Trump campaign, arrives on at the U.S. Capitol December 12, 2017 to appear before a closed meeting of the House Intelligence Committee. Clovis worked with George Papadopoulos, a former Donald Trump campaign foreign policy advisor who struck a plea deal on charges of lying to the FBI.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Roger Stone

Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”

Carter Page

Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

J.D. Gordon

Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo (L)

Caputo waves goodbye to reporters after he testified before the House Intelligence Committee during a closed-door session at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Caputo resigned from being a Trump campaign communications advisor after appearing to celebrate the firing of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Denying any contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, Caputo did live in Moscow during the 1990s, served as an adviser to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and did pro-Putin public relations work for the Russian conglomerate Gazprom Media.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Stephen Miller, White House Senior Advisor for Policy

Jason Miller
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer
Eric Trump
Donald Trump Jr.
Ivanka Trump
White House Senior adviser Jared Kushner
Executive assistant to Donald Trump Rhona Graff
White House Communications Director Hope Hicks
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski
US Vice President Mike Pence
Katrina Pierson
K.T. McFarland
Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci

The two sides have been negotiating the terms of a possible interview for months, including topics Mueller might pursue as part of a nearly year-old inquiry into possible collusion between Moscow and Trump's presidential campaign.

The Kremlin has denied assertions by U.S. intelligence agencies that it meddled in the election. Trump has denied any collusion and has described the investigation as a political witch hunt.

Giuliani, who joined Trump's legal team last month, said they were trying to figure out whether it was a good idea for Trump to voluntarily submit to an interview.

"Are they trying to trap him?" Giuliani asked. He said Trump's legal team expected to make a decision in two or three weeks. "We want to get it over with," he said.

Giuliani said Trump had used retainer fees starting in 2017 to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 Cohen paid the porn star, Stormy Daniels, in the closing weeks of the November 2016 election.

Trump wrote in a tweet on Thursday that Cohen was not paid using campaign funds. The payment was part of a "private agreement" that involved money that had "nothing to do with the campaign," Trump said.

He said the payment was aimed at stopping "false and extortionist accusations" Daniels made about a sexual encounter with Trump. Trump acknowledged a non-disclosure agreement with her to secure her silence. He denied they had an affair.

The president had previously told reporters he did not know about the payment Cohen made to Daniels.

The investigation of Cohen is an offshoot of Mueller's probe.

The claim of repayment is significant because a payment by Cohen could be seen as an illegal campaign contribution. Trump as candidate would have been permitted to make unlimited personal contributions to his own campaign.

But several experts pointed out an undisclosed campaign loan is also a violation of federal election law.

“It is hardly an improvement to claim that what was claimed as a gift is now a secret loan from your lawyer to pay hush money to a porn star,” said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University Law School Professor who has frequently expressed skepticism about the legal case against the president.

But legal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said it was asking the Department of Justice and Office of Government Ethics to investigate whether Trump made an illegal false statement by not including the $130,000 payment in his personal financial disclosures.

The group said Trump was legally required to disclose any liability in excess of $10,000.

Other legal experts said the payment may not qualify as the sort of financial obligation Trump would have been required to disclose.

Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University, said that while prosecutions for making false statements to the government are common, they are rarely based on an omission on a financial disclosure form.

"I don’t see this becoming a case," he said. (Reporting by Karen Freifeld and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Makini Brice and Jan Wolfe; editing by Grant McCool and Howard Goller)

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