The New York Times reported yesterday that President Trump’s lawyers have advised him not to interview with special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation has raised questions about whether the president is required to answer his questions under oath, speculating a possible court battle over the issue.
Although Trump has stated previously that he would openly speak with Mueller about alleged ties to Russia, Trump’s legal team has taken a different stance. They are evidently worried that the president’s tendency to contradict himself will backfire, according to the Times and Vox Media. Ty Cobb, the lawyer that was brought into the White House in July by Trump specifically to deal with Mueller, is one of the only advisers advocating for cooperation with the investigation.
It is possible for Mueller issue a grand jury subpoena to Trump. If Trump refuses, it could lead to a major dispute ultimately decided by the Supreme Court. It would also drastically escalate the investigation, as it prompts accusations that the president may be hiding something. However, according to the Washington Post, Mueller has indicated that he is more likely to request a formal interview with the president. In a meeting with Mueller in December, Trump’s legal team suggested that the interview allow Trump to respond with written answers, just as Reagan did during the Iran-contra investigation in 1986 and 1987. Regardless, testifying under oath has proven to be a dangerous game, as Clinton demonstrated in 1998 regarding his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
According to NBC, famous criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz has noted that this strategy is classic “gamesmanship,” and usually works in regular criminal trials. Dershowitz has commented that since Trump does not belong to the same category as others on trial, this strategy may not be as effective for him, since presidents should “not want to plead the fifth.” He added that refusing to speak with Mueller does not necessarily mean they are presuming President Trump to be guilty.
Guilty or not, Trump’s decision to meet with Mueller could shape the course of Mueller’s investigation and political moments to follow. It could especially impact Republicans in the midterm elections coming up in November, or beyond into Trump’s re-election. It is unclear when President Trump will have a decision, or when Robert Mueller will finish his investigation.
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