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Trump lawyers try to clean up president's clumsy under-oath vow

Donald Trump bragged that he's "absolutely" "looking forward to" answering Russia-scandal questions under oath. That's not what his lawyers wanted him to say.
US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference with Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg in the East Room of the White House January 10, 2018 in...

The evolution of Donald Trump's position on answering questions under oath in the Russia investigation has been amazing to watch. It started in earnest in June, when the president said he was "100 percent" willing to do so.

Earlier this month, however, his posture shifted. Asked a few weeks ago if he's still willing to answer questions under oath, Trump hedged. Soon after, facing a similar question, the president delivered a long, meandering, and not-altogether-coherent answer, which concluded that it "seems unlikely" he'd answer the special counsel's questions.

Last night, in an impromptu Q&A with reporters, he switched back to his original position.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday he is willing to speak "under oath" to special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the federal investigation into Russian election meddling as well as potential collusion with Trump's campaign."I'm looking forward to it, actually," Trump told reporters when asked if he would talk to Mueller. "I would love to do that. I'd like to do it as soon as possible."

After asking some weird questions about Hillary Clinton -- his preoccupation with her really is a little creepy -- Trump added that he's "absolutely" prepared to answer questions under oath. Despite saying two weeks ago that Special Counsel Robert Mueller probably wouldn't want to talk to him, the president conceded last night that his conversation with Mueller may come within the next two to three weeks.

But then Trump hinted at some wiggle room: "You know, again, it's -- I have to say -- subject to my lawyers and all of that — but I would love to do it."

And it was soon after that the president's lawyers weighed in on the subject.

"Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer leading the response to the investigation, said Mr. Trump was speaking hurriedly and intended only to say that he was willing to meet," the New York Times  reported.

As Rachel explained on last night's show, the terms of the presidential interview have been the subject of ongoing negotiations -- and Trump may have stepped on those talks by blurting out a series of thoughts that popped into his head. It meant his defense team had to scramble to make clear that the president's words shouldn't necessarily be taken at face value.

After all, he was speaking hurriedly.

The rationale behind the lawyer's anxiety isn't exactly a mystery: the president has an unfortunate reflex for dishonesty, to the point that he lies when he doesn't have to. If he's under oath and fielding questions from the special counsel's team, it's hard to predict whether -- or how many times -- he'll stumble into perjury.

Nevertheless, for those keeping score, Trump is (1) willing to answer questions under oath; (2) not sure if he'll answer questions under oath; (3) expecting not to be asked questions under oath; (4) "absolutely" "looking forward to" answering questions under oath; and (5) still negotiating whether he'll answer questions under oath.

Trump World is quite a fine-tuned machine.