It was nearly six months ago when Donald Trump spoke to reporters about how eager he was to answer Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s questions.
“I’m looking forward to it, actually,” the president 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 January. This is July.
President Donald Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said Sunday that the president wants to testify in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but his legal team won’t recommend an interview unless “they can satisfy us that there is some basis for this investigation.”
Giuliani said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Trump’s legal team is asking investigators for a “factual basis” for any interview…. “What we’re asking them for is: Is this the witch hunt that a lot of people think it is? Or is there a factual basis for this?”
The old line from Trump World was simple: Trump didn’t do anything wrong, so he’s eager to answer investigators’ questions. The new line from Trump World is far less straightforward: Trump didn’t do anything wrong, but he won’t cooperate unless investigators satisfy the president’s lawyers’ questions about the legitimacy of their efforts.
For what it’s worth, the “factual basis” for the special counsel’s investigation is hardly in doubt. Not only is there a lengthy list of legitimate questions, but at last count, Mueller and his team have indicted 20 people – some of whom have already pleaded guilty– and three businesses. A total of 75 criminal charges have been filed, including a case against the president’s former national security advisor. One person was already convicted and sentenced, while the man who oversaw Trump’s political operation is currently in a jail cell.
Giuliani wants to know if there’s “some basis for this investigation.” Perhaps the former mayor isn’t paying close enough attention to current events.
All joking aside, the president’s attorney almost certainly knows there’s “a factual basis” for the probe, but Giuliani is peddling nonsense because he and his colleagues are trying to justify the one outcome that seemed unthinkable: the president, already the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, is now likely to refuse to cooperate with this probe.
Trump’s lawyers have presented a variety of possible alternatives to answering the special counsel’s questions – from a take-home exam to a written affidavit to pre-written narrative vignettes – and Giuliani’s latest pitch only became necessary when those other efforts were dismissed as ridiculous.
The trouble, of course, is that this latest pitch is ridiculous, too.
In related news:
* Giuliani wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Trump knew in advance of the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians, telling ABC News yesterday, “I think that you could have very, very different recollections on that because it was right in the heat of the campaign.” Does that mean that someone in the president’s orbit “recalls” Trump being notified?
* Giuliani called the Mueller probe “tainted,” adding, “This is the most corrupt investigation I have ever seen.” This struck me as a rhetorical escalation, if nothing else.
* Asked about what the president may have told Comey about Michael Flynn, Giuliani told George Stephanopoulos, “The reality is as a prosecutor, I was told that many times. ‘Can you give the man a break,’ either by his lawyers, by his relatives, by friends.” If that’s what Trump told Comey last year, then the president lied about the interaction.
* In a confidential memo addressed to Mueller last summer, Trump’s legal defense team tried to tear down former FBI Director James Comey’s credibility, describing him a “Machiavellian” and “unbounded by law and regulation.” It’s of interest that this was suddenly leaked to the Associated Press a couple of days ago.