Trump’s legal team has a baffling new argument for why he shouldn’t speak with Mueller

Trump attends the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington

Trump attends the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington
Thomson Reuters

  • President Donald Trump’s legal team says an in-person interview between the president and special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation would set a bad precedent for future presidents, and would be a waste of time.
  • Trump’s team has been stonewalling Mueller for months, and it looks like the standoff will continue.
  • Experts say that while Trump should be worried about a Mueller interview, his legal team arguing that it would set a bad precedent is a dramatic overstatement.

After months of finding ways to skirt around the issue, President Donald Trump’s legal team has come up with yet another strategy for avoiding an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation.

While maintaining that all options for a Trump-Mueller interview remain on the table, one of Trump’s lawyers has claimed that a face-to-face interview would set a bad precedent for future investigations.

“It would be a travesty to waste [Trump’s] time and to set a precedent which would cripple a future president,” the unnamed lawyer told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

Mueller is investigating potential cooperation between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, including whether the president obstructed justice by, among other things, firing former FBI Director James Comey in May.

The lawyer also claimed that a face-to-face interview would be unnecessary given the volume of information Mueller’s team already has access to.

The lawyer said Mueller “has all of the notes and memos of the thoughts and actions of this president on all subjects he requested in real time without reservation or qualification, including testimony from his most intimate staff and eight lawyers from the White House Counsel’s Office.”

“Any question for the president is answered in these materials and testimony,” the lawyer continued.

Instead of a full in-person interview, Trump’s team has also floated written responses to interviewers’ questions, along with partial face-to-face responses.

The bigger picture

Yale Law School professor Cristina Rodríguez, who specializes in administrative and constitutional law, said the unnamed lawyer’s statement about Trump’s testimony was not entirely accurate.

“That seems like a dramatic overstatement to me,” she told Business Insider. “Future presidents could ignore what President Donald Trump would do. Sitting down might create a convention where presidents would cooperate with an investigation, but at this point it’s very speculative.”

But Rodríguez did acknowledge that sitting down with Mueller would present an awkward situation for Trump.

“The special counsel is a subordinate to the president,” she said. “This is just an ordinary special counsel under the office of the Justice Department’s regulations, so it’s an ordinary prosecutor. What’s awkward about it is that it would be an adversarial meeting to some degree. And Mueller would probably ask questions that the president would perceive as threatening, so this does present concerns for the chief executive.”

Rodríguez said that while independent counsels did interview former President Bill Clinton in the Whitewater investigation, these investigators were protected from removal by Congress. Mueller, though, has no such protections.

Robert Ray, one of the independent counsels in the Clinton investigation in the 1990s, said Trump’s waffling on the issue is unnecessary.

A colorized image of President Richard Nixon.

A colorized image of President Richard Nixon.
Getty Images/Algorithmia

“The sooner they make the president available to submit to an interview, the faster that Bob Mueller can get to the finish line and be over and done,” Ray told The Journal.

Trump’s standoff with Mueller’s team has been ongoing for months now, and negotiations could potentially last up to six months, and in an extreme scenario, lead to a Supreme Court case just like the Watergate investigation did in 1974 when investigators tried to get former President Richard Nixon to unseal his now-infamous White House tapes.

But Trump’s team does have reason to be worried about a face-to-face interview – judging from past depositions he has been involved in over the years, Trump is a gregarious witness who doesn’t shy away from boasting, fiercely defending his record, and stretching the truth to make himself look good, according to the Associated Press. In an interview with Mueller’s team, such qualities could lead Trump to inadvertently open the door for perjury.

Washington defense lawyer Justin Dillon told the AP that Mueller would scrutinize Trump’s words as closely as possible.

“They’re not going to let the B-team question Donald Trump,” Dillon said of Mueller’s attorneys.