Maybe Donald Trump has deduced the dangers inherent in a wide-ranging interview with federal prosecutors in search of a crime. In an early-morning tweet, the president called allegations of collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign a “hoax,” but got more specific about allegations of obstruction of justice, which he called a “setup & trap.”
A voluntary interrogation with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team might not be a “setup,” as anyone with a lick of sense could see the “trap” part of it coming. That may finally include the White House, whose resistance to the idea prompted Mueller in March to threaten to issue a subpoena and put Trump in front of a grand jury:
In a tense meeting in early March with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, President Trump’s lawyers insisted he had no obligation to talk with federal investigators probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
But Mueller responded that he had another option if Trump declined: He could issue a subpoena for the president to appear before a grand jury, according to four people familiar with the encounter.
Mueller’s warning — the first time he is known to have mentioned a possible subpoena to Trump’s legal team — spurred a sharp retort from John Dowd, then the president’s lead lawyer.
“This isn’t some game,” Dowd said, according to two people with knowledge of his comments. “You are screwing with the work of the president of the United States.”
Or maybe they haven’t learned it. Not long after this, John Dowd left Trump’s legal team, and one of the rumored reasons was Dowd’s opposition to any interview at all with Mueller’s team. Supposedly the subsequent raid on Michael Cohen’s office soured Trump on talking with Mueller, but then Trump hired Rudy Giuliani, whose purpose seems to be to negotiate with Mueller on the terms of the interview.
Trump’s tweet, to the extent it’s strategic at all, seems to be setting up a political cover for reversing his earlier pledge to cooperate with the special counsel. The Washington Post reports that the release of dozens of potential Mueller questions actually came from an internal Trump legal team analysis, and was designed to paint Mueller as a Ken Starr-ish loose cannon:
Trump fumed when he saw the breadth of the questions that emerged out of the talks with Mueller’s team, according to two White House officials.
The president and several advisers now plan to point to the list as evidence that Mueller has strayed beyond his mandate and is overreaching, they said. …
“Mueller is in Kenny Starr territory now,” said another Trump adviser, referring to how the controversial independent counsel investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s real estate deals in Arkansas ended up examining the president’s lies about his sexual relationship with a White House intern.
Perhaps the tweet was just whimsical, though. Trump’s been known to vent his mercurial temperament on Twitter from time to time, or so I hear. The fact that Trump’s legal team has still considered putting their client in a room with federal prosecutors without being a target of their investigation is amazing enough that it’s tough to guess what else it would take to convince them — and Trump — not to do it. He doesn’t have to paint Mueller as Ken Starr to decide against it, but if they’ve gotten to the point of gaming that out, it at least suggests that the subpoena threat might have finally made the danger clear, even to Trump. Wonderful thing, subpoenas.