In a sign that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will remain a continuing distraction for the White House, the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is in talks with the West Wing about interviewing current and former senior administration officials, including the recently ousted White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, according to three people briefed on the discussions.
Mr. Mueller has asked the White House about specific meetings, who attended them and whether there are any notes, transcripts or documents about them, two of the people said. Among the matters Mr. Mueller wants to ask the officials about is President Trump’s decision in May to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, the two people said.
That line of questioning will be important as Mr. Mueller continues to investigate whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in the dismissal of Mr. Comey.
No interviews have been scheduled, but in recent weeks Mr. Mueller’s investigation has appeared to intensify. Late last month, he took the aggressive step of executing a search warrant at the Alexandria, Va., home of Paul J. Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman. Legal experts say Mr. Mueller may be trying to put pressure on Mr. Manafort to cooperate with the investigation.
Although it has been clear for months that Mr. Mueller would interview Mr. Trump’s closest advisers, the recent inquiries come as the president is heading into the fall pushing his priorities in Congress, including a tax overhaul, with the constant distraction of a federal investigation.
Ty Cobb, a special counsel to the president, declined to comment, saying only that the White House would “continue to fully cooperate” with Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. He has frequently said that the White House would cooperate with Mr. Mueller’s investigation and that he hoped it would be completed quickly. Mr. Priebus did not return messages seeking comment.
Mr. Mueller has expressed interest in speaking with other administration officials, including members of the communications team. But Mr. Trump’s allies are particularly concerned about Mr. Mueller’s interest in talking to Mr. Priebus, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who worked closely with Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign. Mr. Trump’s confidants at the White House say Mr. Trump was never fully convinced that Mr. Priebus would be loyal to him.
Shortly after the November election, Mr. Priebus was made chief of staff, and he was involved in the major decisions the president made during the transition and in the first six months of the administration. Mr. Priebus made a point of being in most meetings and tried to be aware of what the president was doing. Mr. Trump fired him last month.
SOURCE: MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, MATT APUZZO, and MAGGIE HABERMAN
The New York Times