Rudy: We're giving Mueller until September 1 to interview Trump

Please, in the name of everything holy, let Rudy be telling the truth. One side or the other needs to end this endless kabuki and issue a hard deadline to the other on the interview. No more negotiations.

Incidentally, although Giuliani often sounds semi-coherent in his media appearances, I think his and Team Trump’s meta-strategy on Russiagate has been and continues to be pretty deft.

“We certainly won’t do [an interview] after Sept. 1, because we’re not going to be the ones to interfere with the election,” Mr. Giuliani said. “Let him [Mr. Mueller] get all the bad publicity and the attacks for that.”

Based on a prior meeting with Mr. Mueller, Mr. Giuliani said he had believed prosecutors wanted to wrap up the inquiry by September. “Now they’re not really rushing us,” he said…

Should Mr. Mueller issue a report on the president’s actions, even a critical one, Mr. Giuliani said, “I’d take that.”

“A negative report gets it over with. We can answer it with, I think, a better report from us, and then we get to wait and see what happens in Congress.”

Rudy’s job on Trump’s legal team seems to be one part law to 20 parts PR, which makes sense for a guy who left law 25 years ago to become a politician. Whether Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice is a secondary question for him. The bottom-line question is how to make sure Trump suffers minimal political damage if Mueller accuses him of it. Writ large, that means attacking the investigation as a “witch hunt” in every breath; in this particular case, it means setting a September 1 deadline for Mueller and framing any failure to comply with that explicitly in terms of election interference. Now, if Mueller issues a subpoena between September 1 and Election Day, Trump and Rudy are set up to argue that he’s pulling a Comey, injecting a criminal investigation directly into the heart of a national campaign in its home stretch. If a blue wave materializes, Trump will claim that the outcome is illegitimate because of Mueller’s last-second meddling. (Never mind that, by that logic, Comey’s meddling in October 2016 would make Trump’s presidency illegitimate.) And maybe the fear of being accused of that will be enough to convince Mueller not to take any sort of dramatic action on Russiagate until after the midterms. By setting a deadline today, Rudy might have succeeded in getting the special counsel to slow things down until the election is safely past.

If Mueller shocks everyone by skipping the interview and subpoena and instead delivering his final report on obstruction before Election Day, that may not be a disaster for Trump and Rudy either. Increasingly the GOP seems focused on base turnout this fall, calculating (probably correctly) that opinions about Trump among his critics long ago hardened to the point where there’s no softening them now. If you already dislike POTUS, it makes no difference what Mueller accuses or doesn’t accuse him of. You’ll dislike him the same amount the next day. The fear from Russiagate is that the report might give pause to center-righties who aren’t thrilled with Trump but are otherwise inclined to vote GOP. That’s not a huge constituency but in a midterm where Dems are poised to turn out en masse it’s an important one. Giuliani’s calculating that by aggressively discrediting the investigation now and preparing a counter-report by the president’s own legal team for when Mueller finally issues his own findings, any center-righty who might waver if Trump is accused of something might be steered back into the fold by POTUS’s “alternative facts.” An unfavorable finding by Mueller in the weeks before the election might even be converted into turnout fuel for Republicans: “The witch-hunters are trying to steal the midterms. The only way to stop them is to turn out!”

All of which is to say, I think Trump and Rudy have moved past worrying about impeachment. They seem confident that Mueller has nothing pointing at Trump on collusion, and insofar as he has anything on obstruction, there’s no way there’ll be 218 in the House *and* 67 in the Senate to remove him — especially after Team Trump issues its own findings of fact on obstruction, giving Trump fans something to cite in his defense. The question at this point is how Russiagate will affect the midterms. Rudy’s new deadline is a way to manage potential short-term outcomes to make them as favorable as possible to Republicans.

Here he is this morning chattering about it. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Mueller will subpoena Trump if Trump ends up refusing an interview. Even if Mueller wins in court on that, that showdown probably ends with Trump invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege. That would be hugely damaging for any other politician, but again, whose opinion of Trump is so soft at this point that it might be shaped by him refusing to talk? In the end it’d be a long contentious fight over nothing. Just issue the report.

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