President Donald Trump shouldn’t agree to talk with special counsel Robert Mueller without knowing more about a man said to have approached Trump campaign aides in 2016 as part of the U.S. investigation into Russian election interference, his lawyer said Saturday.
Rudy Giuliani said Mr. Trump could be “walking into a trap” unless federal prosecutors make clear the role played by the suspected informant and whether the person compiled any “incriminating information” about Mr. Trump’s associates.
Mr. Giuliani’s comments suggest the Trump legal team is seeking leverage in the latest rounds of monthslong negotiations with Mr. Mueller about the terms under which the president would testify.
“What we intend to do is premise it on, ‘If you want an interview, we need an answer to this,’ ” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview.
In recent days, Mr. Trump and his allies have been moving more aggressively to try to discredit the Russia investigation, edging closer to a collision with the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation. They have seized on reports about the informant as evidence in their view that the Russia probe is motivated by political animus toward the president and not Russia’s efforts to influence the election outcome.
In a tweet on Saturday, Mr. Trump suggested that federal agents had been “infiltrating” his campaign “for the benefit of” his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. For his part, Mr. Giuliani in the interview said before agreeing to talk, the Trump team would seek to learn more about what he described as a breach of the campaign’s “private communications.”
But former law-enforcement officials have said informants in a probe involving a presidential campaign could be used for law-enforcement or foreign-intelligence purposes, but not for political ends.
The suspected informant met with Trump campaign aides Carter Page and Sam Clovis. Mr. Page had been on the radar of U.S. counterintelligence officials for years over his dealings with Russia, and Mr. Clovis has met with Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors over his involvement with a onetime campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. Neither Mr. Page nor Mr. Clovis have been accused of wrongdoing.
Congressional Republicans are demanding records from the Justice Department about both the informant and other aspects of the investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign. Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a close ally of Mr. Trump, has gone so far to threaten to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress if he doesn’t supply information about the person—an extraordinary threat from a committee chairman to an attorney general of his own party.
Last week, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to turn over the requested information, a person familiar with the matter said. The Justice Department disputed that account of the meeting but declined to elaborate.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), who co-signed a letter to the president on Tuesday asking him to direct the Justice Department to release the records, said in an interview Saturday: “Any instruction that the Justice Department may have gotten from Gen. Kelly is consistent with where I’ve come to understand the president’s position to be.”
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Rosenstein has at times shown a willingness to meet congressional requests for information. But the department has resisted Mr. Nunes’s latest demand, even during a classified briefing with the congressman last week with intelligence officials. Mr. Nunes didn’t respond to an invitation from the Justice Department to meet with intelligence officials again this week.
Officials have told Mr. Nunes that providing him with the requested information would put lives in danger, hurt investigations and damage international partnerships.
A former senior Justice Department official familiar with the department’s thinking said the requests for information about confidential human sources are a red line for Mr. Rosenstein and others who believe providing such details would set a dangerous precedent.
FBI Director Christopher Wray and Mr. Rosenstein have been making increasingly pointed public statements about the dangers of giving too much access. Mr. Rosenstein has said the Justice Department wouldn’t be “extorted” or succumb to threats, and Mr. Wray this past week added that “the day we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe.”
People close to the White House are dismissive of that argument, saying broadly that Justice Department is merely trying to suppress potentially embarrassing information.
Reports of a government informant have migrated in recent days from conservative news outlets to the mainstream press, with the Washington Post and New York Times publishing articles on Friday.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers have spent the past several months discussing with Mr. Mueller’s team the parameters of a possible interview, which Mr. Trump had said he is eager to do. The special counsel is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Mr. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction, and Moscow has denied election meddling.
Mr. Page, who was a Trump foreign-policy adviser, said he met with a person who is now believed to be the informant in July 2016. The event, a symposium on the 2016 election, was held at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. on July 11 and 12.
The suspected informant asked to meet Mr. Clovis, a Trump campaign co-chairman who had initially helped assemble the foreign-policy team, in late August 2016, presenting himself as a professor and foreign-policy expert who wanted to help the campaign, according to Victoria Toensing, a lawyer for Mr. Clovis.
The two met just outside Washington, D.C., and discussed China, Ms. Toensing said. “Russia never came up,” she said. “The conversation was only about China.”
—Byron Tau and Rebecca Ballhaus contributed to this article.