For more than a year, Donald Trump has argued that the Russia-collusion investigation is a “witch hunt” with no basis in reality. According to the New York Times, Trump wants to make that argument to one person in particular. Trump believes that he alone can convince Robert Mueller to end his special counsel probe, and wants his attorneys to arrange the meeting so he can make that case.
President Trump pushed his lawyers in recent days to try once again to reach an agreement with the special counsel’s office about him sitting for an interview, flouting their advice that he should not answer investigators’ questions, three people briefed on the matter said on Wednesday.
Mr. Trump has told advisers he is eager to meet with investigators to clear himself of wrongdoing, the people said. In effect, he believes he can convince the investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, of his belief that their own inquiry is a “witch hunt.”
What could go wrong? Plenty, and it’s far from clear that even a successful interview would end matters anyway:
Mr. Trump’s belief that an interview would bring the investigation to a swift end ignores several realities: that the investigation sprawls into areas well beyond his behavior; the possibility that Justice Department officials will hand over the results of the investigation to lawmakers to decide whether to proceed, thus prolonging the inquiry; and the lack of any public indication from the special counsel about how much work he has ahead of him.
Both Allahpundit and I have written multiple times about just how bad an idea it is to sit down for an interview with special prosecutors who clearly have target already painted on your back. That’s especially true in regard to potential obstruction charges, which normally wouldn’t attach to legal actions by an officeholder — as long as prosecutors can’t prove a corrupt and obstructive motive. The best way, and perhaps the only way, to get that proof is to get the officeholder to confess it.
Guess who made that point publicly three months ago?
Even if Trump thinks he can still somehow convince Mueller that the Russia probe is a “witch hunt” and that he fired James Comey without the intent to obstruct the investigation, that doesn’t end his legal jeopardy. Trump and his attorneys don’t know what Mueller knows, and don’t even know what Mueller doesn’t know. His prosecutors will conduct an interview to lay traps for Trump by getting him to make false statements, which would be a federal crime in itself. (Just ask Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, and so on.) Even if Mueller abides by the Department of Justice policy that sitting presidents can’t be indicted while in office, those felonies would almost certainly trigger a serious effort at impeachment, especially if Democrats take control of the House in the next session. If Trump manages to talk himself into a deep enough hole, a President Mike Pence might start looking pretty attractive to Senate Republicans looking at a much tougher cycle in 2020, too.
Refusing to be interviewed will cause political damage too, to be sure, but political damage can be more easily handled than criminal referrals to Congress. Besides, Trump has spent the last fifteen months setting up his public campaign to deal with the political damage resulting from a refusal, with his “total hoax” and “witch hunt” rhetoric. He even escalated yesterday after getting the Mueller counteroffer by declaring that Jeff Sessions should shut down Mueller’s probe “right now.” If Mueller should be shut down yesterday, why in the world would Trump sit down and talk with him tomorrow?
Nevertheless, he persists, at least according to the NYT’s Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman:
They have been prepared to tell Mr. Mueller’s office there will be no interview, risking a court fight over a subpoena that could drag into November’s midterm elections, but Mr. Trump pushed them to continue negotiating. The lawyers are likely to counter Mr. Mueller’s proposal in the coming days, according to the three people.
One rational reason for doing this would be to stall a subpoena fight until after the midterms. Unfortunately, the irrational possibility exists that Trump’s ego is pushing him to roll the dice and make the greatest sale of his life. Best of luck with that.