Medill DC, cropped / Flickr robert mueller...
Medill DC, cropped / Flickr

Donald Trump’s White House and campaign team are completely open to cooperating with investigations into connections between Trump and Russia. Except, of course, for the spots where Michael Flynn refused to testify, Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr declined to testify in public and insisted on closed door hearings within strict limits, Carter Page refused to provide a list of Russian contacts, Jared Kushner forgot to mention some email, Jared Kushner forgot to mention some meetings, or Jared Kushner forgot to note some other meetings. That kind of thing. And the part where every bit of evidence they’ve admitted to came only after it was discovered by the press or investigators. Other than that, they’re fully cooperating.

In the spirit of that cooperation, Trump’s lawyers are considered offering a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Which is something that Mueller himself hasn’t requested.

If Mueller doesn’t request an interview by Thanksgiving, Trump’s lawyers may even force the issue by volunteering Trump’s time, the official said. The White House believes such an interview could help Mueller wrap up the probe faster and dispel the cloud of suspicion over Trump.

Trump’s lawyers may even be telling the truth in saying they want to speed things along. Because there’s a good reason Mueller hasn’t yet gotten around to asking for face time with Trump.

The former FBI director leading the probe into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia is taking a page from the playbook federal prosecutors have used for decades in criminal investigations, from white-collar fraud to mob racketeering:

Follow the money. Start small and work up. See who will “flip” and testify against higher-ups by pursuing charges such as tax evasion, money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Mueller will talk to Trump … when he’s ready.

It’s unclear what could really be gained by putting Mueller together with Trump.

Even if he has nothing to hide, Trump’s unpredictable nature and willingness to bend the facts poses headaches for his legal team as it strategizes for a possible sit-down with Mueller. One angry or untrue statement could have devastating political and legal consequences for the president.

With Mueller still gathering evidence, much of which is leading up a chain toward Trump, the Special Counsel is unlikely to accept any blanket declaration of innocence on Trump’s part. And Trump’s tendency to exaggerate, omit, and flat out lie when questioned only makes it more likely that Mueller can add a checkmark beside charges of obstruction. 

There’s little dispute over Mueller’s power to interview Trump in connection with his probe into Russian interference into the 2016 election. Every president since Watergate except Barack Obama has been directly involved in a federal criminal investigation while serving in office. All but George H.W. Bush agreed to submit to questioning.

Barack Obama, so often the focus of Republican accusations of all kinds, was the one man in the last twenty years against whom opponents couldn’t even find cause for a real investigation. 

But Donald Trump came through the door with his White House occupation overshadowed by connections between himself, his staff, and Russia. Trying to get this over with now, would appear to be little more than excuse to not face an interview later, when Mueller insists.

… should Trump resist meeting with Mueller, he would trigger a Constitutional clash that the prosecutor is likely to win, based on Supreme Court rulings. Short of that, the only way Trump could avoid answering questions would be to assert executive or attorney-client privilege, or to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against possible self-incrimination.

Trump could also try going with the truth … though that seems singularly unlikely. Of course, not even Steve Bannon thinks Trump will make it through a whole term, so maybe he’s just trying to get it over with.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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