President Donald Trump pauses before signing an executive order about regulatory reform in the Oval Office of the White House February 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Trump explains why he refused to answer Mueller’s questions under oath

Despite having boasted last year that he was “looking forward to” an interview with then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Donald Trump never actually sat down with investigators to answer their questions. The president eventually agreed to answer written questions, though Trump’s answers were deemed “inadequate” – and in some cases, “incomplete or imprecise”– by Mueller and his team.

Multiple news accounts concluded that Trump’s lawyers refused to let their client testify because they were concerned that the president, unable to control himself, would lie under oath.

With this in mind, Trump sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, who had lengthy exchanges with the president about the investigation into the Russia scandal. It led to a striking exchange:

“If you answer these questions to me now,” Stephanopoulos asked, “why not answer them to Robert Mueller under oath?”

“Because they were looking to get us for lies or slight misstatements,” Trump said.

Oh. So the president believed federal investigators were looking for instances in which he lied under oath, which left him with a limited number of options: Trump could (a) refuse to fully cooperate with the probe; or (b) he could tell the truth.

The Republican chose the former over the latter.

In the same interview, Trump insisted that he answered Team Mueller’s questions in writing, which led Stephanopoulos to note – accurately – that the president did not answer questions pertaining to alleged obstruction of justice.

Eventually, the president said, “George, you’re being a little wise guy, OK – which is, you know, typical for you,” Trump shot back. “Just so you understand. Very simple. It’s very simple. There was no crime. There was no collusion. The big thing’s collusion.”

I especially liked the use of the phrase “big thing,” as if in Trump’s mind, obstructing justice – a felony that’s already served as the basis for presidential impeachment in the past – is a “little thing.”