President Donald Trump's lawyers are studying a 1997 federal court ruling that could be used to delay, limit, or avoid an interview with Russia special counsel Robert Mueller, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The Journal cited "people familiar the matter" in its report.
Mueller is investigating Russia meddling in the 2016 election — and Trump said Wednesday that "I'm looking forward" to a session with the special counsel, though he would follow the advice of his lawyers.
But Trump's attorney, Ty Cobb, later walked back the president's comments.
In the '97 case, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that presidents are protected against disclosing information about their decision-making process or official actions, the Journal reported.
Prosecutors seeking to challenge arguments of executive and presidential privilege, the court ruled, must show that such information contains "important evidence" that is not available anywhere else.
Mueller's investigation encompasses whether President Trump obstructed justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey last May.
If Trump refused to interview with Mueller's team and was subpoenaed, his lawyers could cite the 1997 ruling, legal scholars told the Journal.
The case involved independent counsel Donald Smaltz subpoenaing White House records about then-Agriculture Secretary Michael Espy.
Espy, who was serving in the Clinton White House, was indicted on 30 charges of receiving improper gifts from businesses and lobbyists. He was later acquitted at trial.
The appellate court's decision could also bolster President Trump's case beyond any assertion of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, scholars said.
"This is really the only argument they can make outside of the Fifth," Todd Presnell, an attorney who has researched presidential privilege issues, told the Journal.
"The Fifth Amendment would be a public-relations nightmare."
The Espy ruling would apply only to actions Trump took as president, Presnell said, not those during the campaign.
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