Addressing reporters during a press availability at the White House yesterday afternoon, President Donald Trump refused to say definitively whether he would sit down for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller if a request was made. “We’ll see what happens,” Trump answered, before going on to repeatedly insist that there was no collusion between the Russian government and his campaign team during the 2016 election. “When they have no collusion—and nobody’s found any collusion at any level—it seems unlikely that you’d even have an interview.”
It’s one thing, of course, to tell all of this to a bunch of reporters covering the White House and quite another to say the same thing to the special counsel’s office during a deposition. One slip of the tongue or uncensored remark could lead Mueller’s investigators to probe new areas, and one itty, bitty lie to federal agents could lead to a charge of making false statements—a felony in the U.S. legal code. This is what netted guilty pleas from Mike Flynn and George Papadopoulos.
One can’t conjure up a scenario whereby Mueller misses the opportunity to ask President Trump questions. It would be prosecutorial malpractice to not interview a possible person of interest, and Mueller isn’t some inexperienced, green attorney fresh out of law school. Whether Trump will have to answer those questions in front of a grand jury, during a video deposition at the White House, or in a written format, and whether a subpoena will be required to compel cooperation, will be negotiated between Mueller’s team and Trump’s lawyers. But, if and when that day comes, here are the big three Mueller will be sure to ask.
1.What were your reasons for firing Comey?: Former FBI Director James Comey testified on Capitol Hill last summer that Trump encouraged him in a February 2017 private meeting to drop the case against Mike Flynn. Comey refused, the investigation continued, and Comey was fired three months later.
Trump first insisted that he canned Comey on the recommendation of his Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, only to then tell NBC’s Lester Holt that he had the Russia investigation on his mind. The former is a presidential prerogative under the Constitution. The latter is a darn good case for obstruction of justice.
2. Did you know Flynn lied to federal agents, and if so, why didn’t you demand his resignation immediately?: Foreign Policy magazine reported last month that upon learning of Flynn’s false statements to the FBI, White House Counsel Don McGahn researched the former national security adviser’s vulnerability to a felony charge. McGahn may or may not have delivered his findings to Trump. If he did and Trump kept Flynn in his post for weeks, Mueller’s prosecutors would want to know the reason for the slow timeline. Was Trump’s reluctance to fire Flynn about showing loyalty to a man who was also loyal during the campaign? Or did Trump reason that letting Flynn continue in the administration would be the best way to keep him on a leash?
3. Tell us about the statement you issued from Air Force One: When the New York Times published a story detailing a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer, the administration’s press team wanted to err on the side of transparency. Kushner’s legal team believed the whole story would eventually come out, so why not disclose the full nature of the meeting? President Trump reportedly overruled the consensus advice and dictated a statement from Air Force One insisting that the June 2016 meeting was about the adoption of Russian children. In his bestselling book Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff provides more detail, writing that “Even though it was likely, if not certain, that the Times had the incriminating email chain…the president ordered that no one should let on to the more problematic discussion about Hillary Clinton.”
Was this just sloppiness by a president hoping to help out his son, not knowing the full extent of the facts at the time he was writing his statement? Was this a move to mislead the media, hoping the story would die? Or was there is a more sinister motive: purposely releasing an inaccurate statement to prevent the Russia investigation from going into new areas?
Watching Donald Trump battling Robert Mueller for a few hours during a deposition would be must-see television, just as Bill Clinton’s interview session in 1998 captivated the nation. If Trump is deposed, the former FBI Director will go in with a long list of questions, all of which the president will have to prepare for—to the extent he can—with his lawyers. Sending these three very basic questions Trump’s way right out of the gate would be a fastball to Trump’s head—a way to get him off balance during one of the most important legal proceedings the president has gone through in five decades of public life.