The Memo: Few think Trump will interview with Mueller

The Memo: Few think Trump will interview with Mueller

President Trump insisted a few days ago that he would “love to” speak to Robert Mueller’s team of investigators — but it’s becoming harder to find anyone in Washington who believes him

Rudy Giuliani, who recently joined the president’s personal legal team, has been bombarding Mueller day after day.

The president yet again declared the investigation a “witch hunt” in tweets on Monday morning.

And, in the same remarks where he professed his desire to speak with Mueller, he added a crucial caveat: “I have to find that we’re going to be treated fairly.”

Virtually no one believes that criterion is likely to be met, at least in Trump’s mind.
Behind the scenes, people in Trump’s orbit acknowledge that the attacks on Mueller are a way of preparing the ground for the president to refuse an interview, and to make such a decision as politically palatable as possible.

Trump critics and supporters alike acknowledge — albeit with differing levels of frankness — that the current strategy elevates the public relations and political game above the legal one.
So long as Mueller’s probe can be cast as compromised by bias, a large share of the president’s supporters will discount its findings, they believe.

Some people around the president also believe Giuliani is playing a shrewder negotiating game than some people give him credit for, at least in one respect.

His suggestion last week that he might make the president available for an interview but only a relatively brief one is almost certain to be rejected by Mueller — at which point the president’s team could argue they were willing to be constructive but were rebuffed.

Meanwhile, the vigor of the attacks on Mueller from the president and his allies continues unabated.

Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, told The Hill on Monday that he believes “the president should never sit down with Mr. Mueller because Mr. Mueller’s investigation has been an exercise in bad faith from the beginning.”

DiGenova emphasized that he was speaking in a personal capacity. In March, it had been announced that he would join the president’s legal team, together with his wife and fellow attorney Victoria Toensing. Later, however, a statement was issued by Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow noting that the couple would not join up after all because of “conflicts.”

DiGenova and Toensing are frequent guests on cable television, however, where they continue to urge a hard line from Trump toward the investigation.

In his Monday interview with The Hill, diGenova referred to Mueller and the people who surround him as “legal thugs,” adding that sitting down with them would be a “terrible mistake” for Trump.

There could be a price to be paid for not volunteering for such an interview.

According to a Washington Post report, Mueller had suggested during a meeting back in March that he might issue a subpoena if Trump did not consent to an interview.

The mere act of having a subpoena issued against him could be damaging for Trump. If he challenged it, the battle could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

The balance of legal opinion holds that Trump would be likely to lose such a fight, though even some Trump critics acknowledge it is not an open-and-shut case.

The problem is even more acute in the political realm, where the president could be trying to fight off a subpoena at the same time as he is trying to rally the Republican Party to fight the midterm elections in a difficult climate.

Harry Litman, a former deputy assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration, said that a legal battle over a subpoena would take a minimum of “five or six months.”

“That harms Mueller in some ways but it harms Trump worse, because it makes it harder for him to call for [Mueller’s] ouster,” Litman said. “And there may also have been a turn in the House, and maybe even in the Senate by then. So time is not on his side.”

Given those downsides, Litman suggested it was likely there could be another round of negotiations between Mueller’s team and the president’s lawyers, aimed at coming up with a compromise arrangement. He was not, however, optimistic about this bearing fruit.

Referring to Trump’s lawyers, he said: “I don’t see them offering him up for sworn testimony. And I don’t see Mueller settling for anything less.”

Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign aide, argued that the president should only comply with a request for an interview if it pertained to the allegations of Russian collusion during the campaign.

Nunberg insisted that such allegations were false and that therefore Trump had nothing to lose by speaking about them.

But he was much more resistant to the idea that the president should be drawn into broader testimony.

The firing of FBI Director James Comey, for example, was among the issues that were raised in a list of questions that emerged from previous discussions between the Mueller and Trump teams. The New York Times published those questions last week.

If that list is broadly accurate, Nunberg said, “Then, no, I don’t think he should agree to an interview.”

Nunberg insisted a fight against Mueller is winnable, politically as well as legally, for the president.

“As a general rule, whether Americans like the president or not, they will hate the government more,” he said. “They will hate unelected bureaucrats trying to overturn the will of the people.”

It is not clear that the electorate is close to that point, however.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll last month indicated that 69 percent of adults supported Mueller investigating allegations of Russian collusion while only 25 percent were opposed.

That may be one reason why the Trump team is insisting publicly it still has an open mind about a Trump interview.

Giuliani told The Wall Street Journal on Monday that “every day we swing a little different” on whether to advise Trump to testify or not.

He hoped a final decision could be made by May 17, he added — the one-year anniversary of Mueller’s appointment.

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