In January, Donald Trump surprised White House reporters with some impromptu comments about how much he’s looking forward to speaking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“I’m looking forward to it, actually,” Trump said, adding that he’d “love to” talk to the special counsel investigators. The president went on to say he’s “absolutely” prepared to answer questions under oath, and he suggested the discussion would happen in roughly “two or three weeks.”
That was two months ago. In the weeks that followed, Trump’s lawyers have gone to almost comical lengths to give the appearance of cooperation, without actually agreeing to a presidential Q&A, At one point, the president’s defense team considered offering the special counsel’s team a written affidavit, signed by the president, “affirming he was innocent.” Another possibility would be an on-paper interview – in effect, a take-home exam – in which Trump’s lawyers answered Mueller’s questions in writing instead of having the president sit down with investigators.
More recently, Trump’s lawyers reportedly offered the special counsel a deal in which Mueller and his team could interview the president, so long as no one asked the president any detailed questions, and in exchange, Mueller would agree to end his investigation in 60 days.
President Trump’s attorneys have provided the special counsel’s office with written descriptions that chronicle key moments under investigation in hopes of curtailing the scope of a presidential interview, according to two people familiar with the situation.
Trump’s legal team recently shared the documents in an effort to limit any session between the president and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to a few select topics, the people said.
The idea is to provide the special counsel with “a narrative of the White House view” of key events that are currently under investigation, in order to “eliminate the need to ask the president” about the incidents.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Instead of simply cooperating with the probe, Trump’s legal team is effectively offering pre-written narrative vignettes about episodes that are the subject of ongoing federal scrutiny. Mueller and his investigators, the theory goes, would read the written narratives, feel satisfied, and find no reason to explore these issues in any detail during an in-person interview.
The decision, the Post added, is part of “an effort by Trump’s lawyers to minimize his exposure to the special counsel.” And why, pray tell, would it be necessary to minimize the president’s exposure to Mueller? Because Trump’s attorneys “are worried that Trump, who has a penchant for making erroneous claims, would be vulnerable in an hours-long interview.”
This dovetails nicely with a New York Times report from early February, which noted the president’s defense team is “concerned” that Trump, “who has a history of making false statements and contradicting himself, could be charged with lying to investigators.”
Not to put too fine a point on this, but the moral of the story isn’t subtle. The president’s attorneys are aware of the problem the public already recognizes: Donald Trump, just as a matter of course, says things that aren’t true. The president lies, habitually, about matters large and small, sometimes to get himself out of a jam, and sometimes for no apparent reason at all.
Having him sit down with Robert Mueller is therefore profoundly dangerous, leaving Trump’s lawyers in an impossible position. If they refuse to cooperate, the president will look guilty. If they agree to an interview, the president is likely to lie to federal investigators, which is a crime.
And so Trump’s defense team appears to searching for a solution that might accommodate the president’s strained relationship with truth. At this point, given what we know of their offers, the search continues.