President Donald Trump told reporters last month he was “looking forward” to speaking with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and possible obstruction of justice by the president.
But Trump’s lawyers apparently don’t think Trump talking to Mueller’s team is a great idea, as they fear the president’s habits of exaggerating and lying might put him at legal risk, reports the New York Times’s Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman.
As a result, four people briefed on the matter told the Times that Trump’s lawyers are advising him against a Mueller sit-down, despite Trump’s apparent willingness to talk.
This attempt to protect Trump could set up a protracted legal showdown with the potential to extend the Mueller investigation, and put more attention on the president and the Russia investigation he so loathes. Mueller, for example, could issue a grand jury subpoena to Trump — which the president’s lawyers would try to fight, allowing the battle to play out in the courts for weeks or months.
Yet it appears some on Trump’s team are willing to take that risk. According to the Times, John Dowd, a defense lawyer, is among those advocating against an interview with Mueller, along with Dowd’s deputy, Jay Sekulow, and other White House advisers. They are hedging that Mueller would not risk subpoenaing Trump if the special counsel believed he might lose a high-profile fight in court.
Some of Trump’s lawyers also believe Mueller lacks legal standing on matters that the special counsel is said to be investigating, such as Trump’s role in drafting the false statement about the meeting his son Donald Trump Jr. had with Russians in Trump Tower during the campaign.
But the Times report suggests there are some fissures within Trump’s legal team on whether resisting a Mueller interview is a sound strategy. Ty Cobb, who continues to assure Trump the investigation will wrap up quickly, has advocated for cooperating with Mueller.
Trump’s legal team and his close advisers have been split on whether and how much to work with Mueller and his team for some time, but the issue is even more pressing now that Mueller is reportedly closer to requesting a formal interview.
Trump has previously said he believes Mueller will treat him fairly. “There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair,” the president told the Times last year. But Trump’s mendacity could pose problems in any interview with the special counsel, even if it’s not under oath; making false statements to the FBI is a crime.