For a few days, it appeared that the extraordinary raid on Michael Cohen’s offices had finally convinced Donald Trump that Robert Mueller means business. As Trump complained bitterly about attorney-client privilege being “dead,” reports emerged that the president had decided not to sit down for interviews with special-counsel prosecutors after all. With that in mind, Mueller’s team prepared for an end to at least the obstruction part of the probe by early summer.
Not so fast, Betsy Woodruff reports at The Daily Beast:
The president’s personal legal team is still negotiating a possible interview between President Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller, according to White House lawyer Ty Cobb.
“The Cohen searches, while they have taken time away from discussions with regard to an interview, certainly have not brought those discussions to a halt,” Cobb told The Daily Beast. “They continue.” …
“The Cohen searches have not yet changed our strategy or level of cooperation with the special counsel,” he said, referring to recent raids on the home and workplace of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney.
Jay Sekulow, the president’s personal lawyer, told The Daily Beast, “We continue our ongoing cooperation with the Office of the Special Counsel.”
Before, it seemed questionable whether Trump and his team really intended on sitting down with Mueller’s prosecutors, or just wanted to string the possibility along for political purposes. The Cohen raid gave them their best political opportunity to back away from earlier pledges. By forging ahead, it seems that they’re really serious about putting Trump up against experienced prosecutors and investigators.
Heads-up to our friends at National Review: Someone needs to bring smelling salts to Andrew McCarthy, stat. At this point it seems nothing can convince Trump and his team about just how bad an idea it is to sit down with prosecutors in search of a crime to prosecute, but McCarthy’s sage advice from before the Cohen raid still applies. If you’re ahead in that game, for God’s sake, quit, because at this point the game is played for keeps:
Mueller’s prosecutors do not expect Trump’s interview to help them prove obstructive conduct; by their lights, the pressure to drop the Flynn case and the firing of Comey already give them that. The prosecutors would instead be looking to establish corrupt intent on a theory that Trump gives inconsistent, mendacious explanations for his actions because his real reasons must stay hidden — because they are corrupt.
The questioning would be designed to make the president squirm and lash out, torn between the Scylla and Charybdis of admitting past falsehoods or contriving new ones. Mueller would be laying the groundwork to argue:
(1) The president cannot be trusted when he describes his thought process about pretty much anything.
(2) The president made numerous inconsistent statements about Comey; first he was hoping to co-opt Comey, but when that didn’t work, he pivoted to a strategy of disparaging Comey.
(3) All the while, he could not afford to say what he was really thinking — viz., that Comey’s steering of the Russia investigation was a threat to him.
If Mueller’s team can do that, it would not matter to them that Trump strenuously denies having corrupt intent. Mueller would argue that Trump’s denial is meaningless and that his corrupt state of mind is proved by a pattern of deceit that the president is unable to explain.
The only way that a president can commit obstruction of justice in the valid exercise of his legitimate authority is to have corrupt intent. The only way for Mueller to get directly to corrupt intent is to have proof of Trump’s state of mind at the time the actions were taken. And the only way for Mueller to get that is to have Trump shoot his mouth off in an “interview.”
Nevertheless, Trump’s legal team and Trump himself seem intent on entering the lion’s den. The New York Times reports that the addition of Rudy Giuliani to the legal team is to work out some sort of deal on an interview that gives Trump the best opportunity to avoid making things worse:
One person close to Mr. Trump said the Raskins will be the longer-term and more durable additions to the team. Mr. Giuliani, by contrast, is coming on board as a short-timer not only to appear on television but also to see if he can use his decades-long ties with Mr. Mueller to re-establish a working relationship with the special counsel’s team. The relationship between the president’s lawyers and Mr. Mueller’s team blew up after agents raided Mr. Cohen. …
At the same time, though, they have determined that for Mr. Mueller to complete his inquiry in a timely manner, Mr. Trump will need to sit down for questioning. Mr. Giuliani plans to try to work with Mr. Mueller to come up with a way to question Mr. Trump that both sides are comfortable with.
The NYT also addresses rumors that Giuliani might replace Sessions as Attorney General. This move all but ensures that Giuliani would never get confirmed, however, which complicates those prospects even more than Giuliani’s robust support for Trump in the campaign did. The AG is supposed to be at least nominally independent of the president, which makes appointing one’s personal attorney a bit problematic, especially in this environment.
Trump had better hope Giuliani can negotiate a bullet-proof interview arrangement. Trump will need it.