Inadvertent admission of corrupt intent, or discussion of business as usual? This clip between Robert Mueller’s chief deputy Andrew Weissmann and MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace yesterday is making the rounds today as proof that the Mueller team plotted Donald Trump’s removal via a perjury trap. Is that what it is, though — or just a standard prosecutor’s take in any other case?
Prompted by Trump’s characterization of his opponents as “evil,” Weissmann told Wallace that it was “noticeable” that Trump never put himself in position to get charged with perjury. “Noticeable,” in this case, being a synonym for “smart”:
Whether he realizes it or not, Andrew Weissmann just admitted what we always knew:
The purpose of the Mueller investigation was "trying to get rid of" President Trump and laying a perjury trap
The President didn't fall for it, and the truth WON pic.twitter.com/YcOWi9Bybz
— Liz Harrington (@realLizUSA) February 6, 2020
WEISSMANN: It is noticeable that the president mouths off today about this, but where was he in the House? Where was he in the Senate? He never submitted to an interview, he never testified under oath. It’s true — the same happened in the Mueller case.
WALLACE: Why do you think that is?
WEISSMANN: Well, I think there’s a classic reason. There is legal jeopardy that attaches if you sit for an interview or if you say something under oath to federal prosecutors, to the House, to the Senate. So if you notice, the president is happy to talk today about ‘oh, this is evil and these people are corrupt,’ but when it came time for him to sort of put up or shut up, which is, “Are you willing to actually say this under oath or even in an interview,” he’s completely silent. So to me, one classic way of dealing with this is is to say, “You know, a lot of your people testified, and they were willing to come in and say something under oath, under the penalty of perjury. Where were you?”
So is this an admission that the entire special counsel probe was a corrupt scheme to set a perjury trap? Er, not really, unless every prosecutor interview, deposition, and testimony is corrupt. This is what prosecutors do — they pin subjects and targets down under oath and try to catch them in contradictions. Those then become leverage for later admissions, plea deals, and yes, perjury and obstruction charges. That in itself is not evil or corrupt — it’s part of the job.
However, the motivation for that can be evil or corrupt, which is why the framers of our Constitution included the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, among others. They understood — in some cases, by personal experience — that compelling testimony without recourse to silence would inevitably allow corrupt prosecutors to become government persecutors. Those rights force prosecutors to attempt to shame and pressure their subjects and targets into cooperation, one version of which Weissmann just put on display here. What are you afraid of is a schoolground taunt that probably works in more cases than it doesn’t — unless the subject or target has a good attorney.
What’s notable here is that Weissmann’s complaining about Trump’s refusal to testify in an investigation that found no evidence on its core issue. He also fails to note that the reason Weissmann’s team got to talk to everyone else is that Trump waived executive privilege entirely for their investigation. The reason why Trump didn’t want to testify is that (a) it was becoming clear that Mueller wanted to expand the scope of the probe beyond the unfounded Russia-collusion hypothesis, and (b) that cooperation wasn’t accelerating the end of the probe. (And the House investigations have been even more political and unbalanced.) Small wonder Trump relied on his constitutional rights to protect himself from a fishing expedition, which was precisely why the founders added those protections to the Bill of Rights in the first place.
This isn’t an “admission” of anything except typical prosecutorial zeal. It is, however, a reminder that everyone needs to be cognizant of their rights in any investigation, and that good legal representation is a must — as is following your attorney’s advice as to when to speak and when to remain silent. Presidents aren’t the only people susceptible to perjury traps.