I realize how it’ll look if he says no. I realize what his critics will say. But the hard fact remains that only a chump would cooperate with a federal investigation when he has reason to believe he’s a target of it. The Fifth Amendment’s there for a reason. Take advantage.
Maybe, if you were a person of extraordinary intelligence, memory, and discipline, coached by an excellent attorney on which facts it’s safe to admit and which it absolutely isn’t, you might roll the dice and agree to an interview. (Even then, though, why? Why gamble with your freedom?) Needless to say, President Ragetweet is not that person. Any knowingly false statement of material fact to a federal officer is a crime. Unless you think Trump’s prepared to handle hours of questioning from the Mueller dream team without telling a single lie — and we’re talking here about a guy who sometimes seems like he’d have trouble ordering a sandwich without telling a fib or two — he’s practically begging for a perjury charge.
The president’s legal team hopes to provide Trump’s testimony in a hybrid form — answering some questions in a face-to-face interview and others in a written statement…
Within the past two weeks, the special counsel’s office has indicated to the White House that the two central subjects that investigators wish to discuss with the president are the departures of Flynn and Comey and the events surrounding their firings…
Mueller has also expressed interest in Trump’s efforts to remove Jeff Sessions as attorney general or pressure him into quitting, according to a person familiar with the probe who said the special counsel was seeking to determine whether there was a “pattern” of behavior by the president…
However, some of Trump’s close advisers and friends fear a face-to-face interview with Mueller could put the president in legal jeopardy. A central worry, they say, is Trump’s lack of precision in his speech and his penchant for hyperbole.
“I find it to be a death wish,” Roger Stone told WaPo. “Why would you walk into a perjury trap?” Why indeed. The good news for Trump fans *if* WaPo’s reporting is accurate is that it sounds like the “collusion” angle of the Russiagate probe is a dry well, at least as it applies to the president himself. If Mueller had evidence of Trump conspiring with Russia to drop hacked oppo on Hillary, that would be the key line of questioning. The obstruction issue is derivative — still dangerous and potentially impeachable, but a step down from the grand suspicion that’s driven the past year of media interest in the probe, that Trump and Putin were in cahoots to get him elected.
If he does an interview, obviously written answers are preferable to a face-to-face meeting since that would allow Trump and his legal team to precisely craft his answers. It doesn’t guarantee that he’ll avoid the perjury trap but it makes it less likely. Ask yourself, though: What would he gain by doing that? If he does anything short of a sitdown interview with Mueller, Democrats will screech that he’s hiding behind the Fifth Amendment because he’s guilty as sin and has something to hide. All of his deputies have agreed to sitdown interviews with Mueller, haven’t they? Why shouldn’t he do the same? Written answers in lieu of a meeting won’t do much to quiet that. The price of pleading the Fifth, as always, is suspicion and in this case the suspicion will be rocket-fueled due to the partisan political interest in damaging him. In a true worst-case scenario, Mueller could conceivably drag Trump before a grand jury and force the president to plead the Fifth in court, a moment that would be revisited by his enemies for the rest of his presidency.
Take the Fifth and he’ll operate under a cloud forever. Do the interview and get snared in a perjury trap, though, and he might be impeached, indicted, and/or crippled politically. There are no “good” options but taking the Fifth is clearly better. Besides, Trump has some ready-made spin available if he declines to meet with Mueller: It’s a witch hunt! He’s been saying that for months, hasn’t he? Peter Strzok and his mistress were in the tank, weren’t they? I was fully intent on cooperating with the special counsel, Trump could say, but the sheer accumulation of suspicion about the DOJ’s impartiality over the last few months has sadly led me to conclude that I can’t trust I’ll be treated fairly by Mueller and his team. No interview. All of right-wing media would back him up on that. Democrats will howl but they’re going to howl about everything until Trump is either indicted or removed from office. Meanwhile, the primetime line-up of the most-watched cable news network in the country will happily circle the wagons around him if he tells Mueller to get lost. Tucker Carlson already routinely does segments under the banner “Tainted Probes,” for cripes sake. If the probes are tainted then only a fool would comply with them. That’s Trump’s get-out-of-interview-free card. Why doesn’t he take it?
To further prove the point, here’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders at today’s briefing telling reporters that Trump’s extremely concerned that FBI agents like Peter Strzok are biased against him. Tainted probe!