U.S. President Donald Trump’s new lawyer asserted Sunday that the president does not have to comply with a subpoena involving the burgeoning Russia investigation stemming from the 2016 election and might invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination if he is forced to testify.
“We don’t have to” honor a subpoena, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who recently joined Trump’s legal team, told ABC’s Sunday news program “This Week.”
He added, “He’s the president of the United States. We can assert the same privileges other presidents have.”
Trump often has said he would like to sit for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of lawyers, if he is “treated fairly,” as he said Friday. But Giuliani said there was no guarantee that Trump would answer questions and could instead assert his 5th Amendment right against incriminating himself.
“How could I ever be confident of that?” Giuliani said of the certainty of Trump answering questions. Giuliani voiced opposition to the prospect of Trump, often given to exaggerations or falsehoods, testifying about his campaign’s links to Russia and whether he obstructed justice by trying to thwart the investigation.
To allow his testimony, Giuliani said, “I’m going to walk him right into a prosecution for perjury like Martha Stewart,” the U.S. lifestyle maven sent to prison in 2004 for lying about a stock trade she made.
Giuliani said an agreement for Trump to testify could still be worked out with Mueller, but only if Trump is told the questions in advance and that his questioning was not under oath, conditions to which most U.S. prosecutors would not agree.
Mueller has suggested he could subpoena Trump to testify under oath before a grand jury if a voluntary agreement for his testimony is not reached.
If Trump rejects the subpoena, his lawyers could contest the demand for Trump to appear before a grand jury, with the case possibly and ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. legal precedent generally holds that no individual, including presidents, are above the law.
Giuliani said of Mueller’s investigators, “They don’t have a case on collusion. They don’t have a case on obstruction.”
ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos questioned Giuliani at length about a $130,000 reimbursement Trump made to another of his attorneys, Michael Cohen, who said he paid the money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the election to keep her quiet about her claim she had a 2006 one-night affair with Trump at a Nevada hotel. Trump said the purported liaison did not occur.
Giuliani said the timing of the hush money paid to 39-year-old Daniels could have been related to the election, but that the payment was made chiefly because her accusations about the affair with Trump were “embarrassing to him and his wife,” now first lady Melania Trump.
Giuliani rejected the view of some Trump critics that the money amounted to an illegal campaign donation, made just weeks ahead of the Nov. 8, 2016, election, because its size was significantly bigger than the $2,700 limit individuals like Cohen can donate to candidates.
“It was not a campaign donation,” Giuliani contended, adding that “eventually, it was entirely reimbursed out of personal funds.”
Later on the same ABC show, Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ attorney, said, “No question, this had everything to do with the election.”
In April, Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he did not know anything about the payment, although a New York Times report Friday said he knew of it months before.
Giuliani said, “I don’t know when the president learned about it. It could have been recently. It could have been a while back.”
In any event, Giuliani said that for a billionaire like Trump, the $130,000 was “not a great deal of money” and that Cohen made the payment without consulting ahead of time with Trump.
Giuliani said, ” I wouldn’t go and bother him two weeks before the election.” He said Cohen had a fund “to take care of situations like this … if it were necessary, yes.”
Giuliani said he knew of no other women linked to Trump who were paid by Cohen to keep quiet about their relations with the future president.
But former Playboy model Karen McDougal said she was paid $150,000 through the parent company of a tabloid newspaper to not talk about what she has said was a 10-month affair with Trump that allegedly started at the same celebrity golf tournament where Daniels said she met Trump. The president has also denied McDougal’s claims.