Here’s your daily reminder that POTUS’s only response to an interview request from Mueller should be “You must be joking.”
The president’s legal team is considering telling Mr. Mueller that Mr. Trump would agree to a sit-down interview based on multiple considerations, including that the special counsel commit to a date for concluding at least the Trump-related portion of the investigation. One idea is to suggest a deadline of 60 days from the date of the interview, the person said…
Legal experts said they were skeptical that the special counsel would be open to the Trump legal team’s requests.
“You can’t put a timeline on these things,” said Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor and an expert in government investigations. “Someone could walk in the door on the day before their proposed deadline and say, ‘I’ve got some information that’s going to blow your minds.’ … Mueller’s going to say, ‘Oh, too bad, the deadline’s tomorrow?’”
This leak is just PR, right? If Trump ends up doing the smart thing and refusing an interview (or pleading the Fifth in response to a subpoena!), he’ll need to spin that decision furiously to convince the public that he declined to talk for reasons other than that he was worried about incriminating himself. This offer, to do an interview in return for a date certain in ending the prove, is one avenue of spin. “I was reasonable,” Trump will say. “I told him I’d talk to him in the interest of wrapping this up, since we’re a year into this now and an endless investigation isn’t good for the country. I have nothing to hide. But he wouldn’t accept. He’s the one being unreasonable.” That would appeal to Republicans by suggesting that Mueller is more interested in keeping a cloud over the White House via an open-ended probe than he is in getting answers. And it would provide a “neutral” explanation for Trump’s unwillingness to talk. It’s not that he’s opposed to telling what he knows, it’s that he won’t enable a fishing expedition.
There are other neutral explanations for not talking available to him. “One member of the Trump legal team said last month that Mr. Trump’s testimony could set a bad precedent for future presidents, eroding their powers,” a source told the Journal. That’s a good one too. He’s not exercising his right to remain silent because he’s guilty, he’s exercising it to defend the constitutional prerogatives of the presidency itself. Very high-minded! If he really wants to play hardball, he could point to the fact that pretty much every criminal defense lawyer in the United States would tell you that you should never, ever talk to the police — especially the FBI — unless you’re reporting a crime. Especially if you’re innocent. That would be dicey for Trump since he styles himself as Mr. Law Enforcement most of the time, and suggesting that federal prosecutors can’t be trusted not to twist an innocent man’s words against him would essentially amount to calling them corrupt, which is fine for a defense lawyer but not so fine for the head of the executive branch. But that argument’s available to him if he needs it: “Innocent people shouldn’t talk to the police!” As I say, many a defense attorney would happily back him up.
Of course, if Trump ends up making this offer, Mueller could always turn the tables on him. The obstruction probe will end eventually; Mueller will know when they’re within 60 days of wrapping up. He could wait until the investigation is winding down and then call Trump’s bluff by accepting his proposal. What does Trump say then to defend a decision not to cooperate? If he had nothing to hide, was allegedly willing to talk, and Mueller agreed to his terms, the “neutral” explanation for his continued silence starts to evaporate.