Giuliani to AP: Trump will not answer obstruction questions

President Donald Trump walks up the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. Trump is heading to Montana for a rally. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump will not answer federal investigators’ questions, in writing or in person, about whether he tried to block the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, one of the president’s attorneys told The Associated Press.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said questions about obstruction of justice were a “no-go.”

Giuliani’s statement was the most definitive rejection yet of special counsel Robert Mueller’s efforts to interview the president about any efforts to obstruct the investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and Russians. It signals the Trump’s lawyers are committed to protecting the president from answering questions about actions the president took in office.

It’s unclear if Giuliani’s public position has been endorsed by Trump, who has said he wants to answer questions under oath. Negotiations about the scope and format of an interview are still ongoing. If the legal team holds its stance, it could force Mueller to try to subpoena the president, likely triggering a standoff that would lead to the Supreme Court.

Mueller’s office has previously sought to interview the president about the obstruction issue, including his firing last year of former FBI Director James Comey and his public attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump’s legal team has argued that the president has the power to hire and fire appointees and the special counsel does not have the authority to ask him to explain those decisions. Giuliani said Thursday the team was steadfast in that position.

“That’s a no-go. That is not going to happen,” Giuliani said. “There will be no questions at all on obstruction.”

In a letter last week, Mueller’s team said it would accept written responses from Trump on questions related to Russian election interference. Giuliani suggested Thursday that Trump’s lawyers had agreed to those terms but wanted to prohibit investigators from asking follow-up questions.

“It would be in written form and if you want to follow up on our answers, justify it. Show us why you didn’t get there the first time,” Giuliani said.

He said he was not categorically ruling out answering a second round of questions but the entire matter of whether there would be follow-up inquiries should be settled before the president answers anything at all.

“We aren’t going to let them spring it on us,” said Giuliani, who has served as lawyer-spokesman for the president’s personal legal team, using television interviews and public comments as a tactic in the negotiations.

In subsequent interviews late Thursday, Giuliani backtracked slightly, saying that talks over answering obstruction questions were ongoing.

The moment encapsulated one of Giuliani’s roles on the Trump’s legal team: to lay down public markers on interview negotiations that are actually taking place behind closed doors.