Donald Trump has been dancing around the idea of talking to Robert Mueller for months. After first saying that he would be happy to talk to the special counsel and that he was “looking forward to it,” Trump’s legal team began attempting to tamp down that enthusiasm. They tried to push the idea that Trump might respond to a list of questions in writing. Or that he might provide a recorded response. Or, most recently, that he’d talk to Mueller so long as Trump gets to pick the questions, and the setting—and only if Mueller promises to stop investigating Trump after the interview.
But none of that has ever seemed likely. Robert Mueller not only has the option of a grand jury subpoena, but the ability to pull Trump in for an interview on his own. Crocodile tears over “setting a precedent” that would be binding on future presidents are pointless, because Bill Clinton was already forced to not only testify before a grand jury by Ken Starr, but he earlier agreed to an extensive interview with special prosecutor Robert Fiske to address conspiracy theories about the death of Vincent Foster. If Republicans were actually worried about setting precedents, maybe they should have worried about this:
The back-to-back questioning of the President and Mrs. Clinton represented the first time that a sitting President has given a deposition about his official conduct. It was apparently the first time a sitting First Lady has ever been interviewed by law-enforcement officials about her conduct while in the White House.
The precedent has already been set: If Mueller subpoenas Trump, he must appear. And Trump’s attorneys appear to finally be getting that message as they try to prepare Trump for that day.
The preparations reflect an understanding that negotiations with the lead Russia investigator, which have been ongoing since January, will eventually culminate in a sit-down meeting between Mueller and the president. One source said the discussions about the terms of a possible interview may soon even reach a conclusion.
The Mueller-Trump confrontation might still be some time away.
“I don’t think it’s months and months out. I don’t think it’s in a week,” said the person familiar with the negotiations. “But I think it’s moving toward closure.”
And of course, it may not happen at all.
There is still the chance that Trump won’t have to talk to Robert Mueller, because Robert Mueller won’t be there. With rumors flying that Trump isn’t done moving people around, there’s the strong possibility that Jefferson Sessions’ time using the attorney general slot to take apart civil rights might soon fall to someone else, with speculation focusing on EPA administrator (and cone of silence fan) Scott Pruitt. If Pruitt was put in charge of the Justice Department, that could be the first step in getting rid of Mueller. Pruitt could order Rod Rosenstein to dismiss Mueller—but he wouldn’t have to. The only reason that Sessions can’t act directly is that he recused himself from the Russia investigation because of his own meetings with Russian officials during the campaign. Pruitt could just … make it all go away.
Both Pruitt or Sessions also have the option of simply sitting on anything that Mueller reports. It’s highly unlikely that Mueller will “pull a Comey” and speak publicly. He’ll come to his conclusions and submit his report. All that Team Trump need do is report, “Nope, he says it’s all good.”
Granted, firing Mueller or distorting his findings might stir up a fuss, but it leads directly to the way that Trump may do what he pleases, or say what he wants, without consequence. The recent ‘summary’ offered by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee wasn’t just a signal of how willing Devin Nunes is to drink Trump’s bath water. It also showed that Paul Ryan was an active participant in the cover-up of the cover-up.
During his first off-the-rails session around “unmasking,” Devin Nunes stopped for a meeting with his longtime friend, Paul Ryan. At the time, it appeared that Nunes had been talked down from the ledge by Ryan. Nunes not only semi-recused himself from the Russia investigation, but agreed to appear before the ethics committee for the multiple lies he told in attempting to disrupt the investigation.
But Nunes sailed through an obviously light look by the ethics committee without so much as a wrist-slap, and he never really surrendered the House Intelligence Committee. While pretending to step down, he continued to block attempts to call witnesses or subpoena documents, ensuring that fully half the witnesses requested by Democrats never appeared and lies told by those who did appear were never followed up. In the midst of the investigation, Nunes went on to create a second “it’s Obama’s fault” conspiracy in the form of the “Release the memo” memo, and that second run at driving the investigation into the ditch was not only without consequence to Nunes, it was backed by Ryan.
Ryan followed up the issuance of the summary of the Republican finding on the investigation by releasing committee documents on his own, without consulting any Democrat on the committee. It’s clear that it wasn’t Nunes who changed his position in that “unmasking” meeting—it was Paul Ryan. Ryan ceased even token opposition to Trump, and ceased supporting the idea that the investigation was necessary. Instead, he signed on as Nunes’ partner in destroying the investigation.
Paul Ryan has clearly signaled to Donald Trump that there’s no chance that House Republicans will take any action, on any point. They didn’t shy away from attacking the DOJ, or the FBI, or the CIA, or the NSA. Trump could say anything to Mueller, but that doesn’t mean they will take action.
For anything to happen to Trump …
- Robert Mueller must stay in position long enough to complete his investigation.
- His results need to be released by the DOJ with recommendations for action.
- The House needs to take up that report and … do something.
With those hurdles to clear, Trump talking to Mueller seems like a nearly safe bet. But Trump will probably find some way to lose. After all, he is the guy who went bankrupt running a casino.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.