On Friday afternoon, Donald Trump told reporters that Special Counsel Robert Mueller prepared a series of written questions for him, which the president “very easily” answered. Trump stressed how very simple the Q&A was – he apparently saw this as a test, which he’s confident he passed – while insisting that his lawyers played no role in preparing the answers.
Since we’re dealing with a president who’s the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, it’s very difficult to believe Trump’s legal defense team were passive bystanders in response to the special counsel’s questionnaire, but that was Trump’s line and he was proud of it.
What was less clear from his answer, though, was whether the written responses would mark the end of his communications with Mueller’s team or serve as a precursor to a sit-down interview. In his latest Fox News interview, which aired yesterday, the president made the case for the former over the latter.
Chris Wallace asked specifically if his “final position” is that there will be no sit-down interview with the special counsel. The president said he’ll “probably” refuse the invitation.
TRUMP: I would say probably. Probably. I mean, I can change my mind, but probably. I think we’ve –
WALLACE: No interview?
TRUMP: I think we’ve wasted enough time on this witch hunt and the answer is probably, we’re finished.
When the Fox host pressed further, asking what the odds are that he’d agree to a sit-down interview with Mueller and his team, Trump said, “I don’t do odds.”
Wallace responded, “You ran a casino, sir.”
And while that was the correct response, it’s important to appreciate Trump’s apparent decision not to fully cooperate with the Mueller probe.
Earlier this year, Trump boasted that he was “looking forward to” an interview with investigators – it was something he said he’d “love” to do – adding at the time that he was “absolutely” prepared to answer questions under oath. The president suggested that the interview would happen in roughly “two or three weeks.”
That was in January. In the months that followed, Trump and his legal team explored an almost comical series of alternatives to full cooperation. Now, nearly a year after the president said he’d “love” to participate in an interview with Team Mueller, Trump appears to have changed his mind.
I’m reminded of a recent quote from former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired in the hopes of derailing the investigation into the Russia scandal. “In a normal world, it would be very hard for the president of the United States not to submit to an interview in connection with an investigation that touches upon … his conduct and that of people around him,” Comey told Axios in May. “In a normal world, the American people would find that very, very difficult to accept.”
There’s some evidence to bolster the point: the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent in August flagged a CNN poll that found 70% of Americans said they want Trump to give testimony to Mueller.
The same week, the Washington Post editorial board argued, “This silly game has gone on far too long. The country was attacked. Mr. Mueller is trying to determine what happened. The president should be eager to help the country learn and move on.”
Trump now appears eager to do the opposite. Americans deserve an explanation as to why the president, after saying he was looking forward to cooperating, has changed his mind.
Postscript: Just as an aside, in July, Trump lashed out at the FBI’s Lisa Page, whining that she was “dodging a Subpoena” and “refusing to show up and testify.” The president’s point at the time was that those who refuse to testify should probably be seen as guilty.
Do these same standards apply to him, too?