Donald Trump covered a fair amount of ground in his press conference on Saturday, but the last exchange of the event stood out as especially notable:
QUESTION: Mr. President, if Robert Mueller asks you to come and speak with his committee personally, are you committed, still, to doing that? Do you believe that's appropriate for a President?TRUMP: Just so you understand -- just so you understand, there's been no collusion; there's been no crime. And in theory, everybody tells me I'm not under investigation. Maybe Hillary is, I don't know, but I'm not.
Just on the surface, there are some obvious problems with the president's response. For one thing, there's all kinds of evidence of collusion. For another, Trump is almost certainly under investigation.
But the word that stood out for me in the exchange was "still" -- as in, is the president "still" willing to talk to Mueller.
The reporter was right to use this word because during a Q&A with reporters in June, Trump was asked whether he'd be willing to answer questions about the Russia scandal under oath. "One hundred percent," the president responded. In a follow-up, a reporter asked, "So if Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about that, you would be willing to talk to him?"
Trump, referring to comments he made about not pressuring former FBI Director James Comey, responded, "I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you."
In other words, as recently as June, Trump was willing to sit down with the special counsel. As of Saturday, however, the president seemed to hedge, choosing not to answer the question directly.
This is more than just a theoretical exercise. NBC News reported this morning:
Anticipating that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will ask to interview President Donald Trump, the president's legal team is discussing a range of potential options for the format, including written responses to questions in lieu of a formal sit-down, according to three people familiar with the matter. [...]In addition to the possibility of suggesting the president submit written responses in place of an interview, a second person familiar with the president's legal strategy said another possibility being contemplated was an affidavit signed by the president affirming he was innocent of any wrongdoing and denying any collusion.
Watch this space.