Akbar Christie on Trump-Mueller interview: It's a trap

Donald Trump didn’t pick Chris Christie for his administration, but will he listen to Christie’s advice on the TV? “Robert Mueller is not someone to be trifled with,” Christie tells George Stephanopoulos on the former governor’s new gig as an ABC News contributor. When Stephanopoulos asks whether Trump should sit down and meet with Mueller, Christie gives him a flat “no.” Not only does Christie not believe that there is any evidentiary foundation for such a meeting, Christie argues that it’s improper for a special counsel to seek one in the first place:

Christie isn’t the only former federal prosecutor to offer that advice or to point out the arguable defects in such arrangements. Andrew McCarthy made a lengthier argument along both lines over the weekend at National Review:

Moreover, a president does not obstruct justice by merely firing a subordinate, which he has the incontestable constitutional authority to do. Of course, if there is concrete evidence that a crime has been committed, and if the president engages in criminal conduct to cover it up (e.g., bribing witnesses or suborning perjury), Congress could well decide that firing the prosecutor is a corrupt, impeachable offense. But if there has been no crime, and if a president believes the deleterious effects of an investigation on his capacity to govern outweigh the political damage from terminating the prosecutor, that is a reasonable choice to make — under circumstances in which, as a matter of constitutional law, the president does not need a reason at all.

Since firing the prosecutor would not be obstruction of justice, it is obvious that thinking about but deciding not to fire the prosecutor is nothing close to obstruction of justice. …

A president of the United States should never be the subject of a criminal investigation, and should never be asked to provide testimony or evidence in a criminal investigation, in the absence of two things: solid evidence that a serious crime has been committed and a lack of any alternative means to acquire proof that is essential to the prosecution.

There is a simple reason for this: The awesome responsibilities of the presidency are more significant to the nation than the outcome of any particular criminal case. There is an exception: When there is reasonable cause to believe the president is complicit in a serious criminal offense, and that he has evidence or knowledge that would be admissible and probative. Only in those circumstances should a president be subject to subpoena, and only then should he submit to questioning. Trump has a responsibility to the office to enforce that standard.

McCarthy argues that this also applies to another option being discussed:

By the way, that includes testimony in the form of answers to written questions. To be sure, written interrogatories would give Trump and his counsel more notice of the prosecutor’s case than they now have. That would alleviate some, but by no means all, of the concern about making assertions that could be grist for a false-statements charge. But it does not solve the more fundamental problem: The burden should be on Mueller to demonstrate the necessity of questioning the president in any form, not on the president to provide reasons for not submitting to questioning. Being president is reason enough.

Er, how about just plain common sense being enough? Without a predicate on the central issue of contention, a special counsel will do what any good prosecutors do — look for perjury traps to build the larger case by flipping witnesses. You don’t have to be president to see that coming. Thankfully, the Constitution allows everyone to decline an interview with interrogators and to have an attorney deal with them instead.

It’s good advice, and coming from two former federal prosecutors, it sounds convincing — but will Trump listen?  It depends on whether Trump reads National Review (probably not) or watches ABC News in the morning (probably not), but perhaps Trump’s staff will make an effort to get him to access both. Of course, at one point Christie had enough access to Trump to have walked into his Trump Tower office and deliver the message in person. One has to wonder whether he’s trying to get past the gatekeepers here and make the point that his advice might be better than some that Trump’s getting at the moment, at least from any political adviser trying to argue to jump into a perjury trap.

ABC News had to get a little more out of its deal with Christie than just act as a conduit for legal advice. Christie gives some valuable insight into FBI Director Chris Wray, and also warns that releasing the Nunes memo could wind up being a mistake. Christie also advises Republicans to dial back the partisan rhetoric on the FBI and give Wray a chance to reform the bureau from within. The likelihood of anyone taking that advice at this point is probably nil, at least until Trump jumps feet first into the perjury trap that everyone else sees coming. At that point, what’s the use?