Donald Trump’s lawyers are counseling him not to answer questions from special counsel Robert Mueller, for fear the President might be caught in a lie or an exaggeration that creates legal peril for him, according to The New York Times.
Which is, if you stop and think about it for a minute, a pretty remarkable admission. The President of the United States, who has said publicly he is happy to talk to Mueller under oath, is considered such an unreliable witness by his legal team that they want to shroud him from any possible questioning about Russia’s attempted meddling in the 2016 campaign and his decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey – among other things.
In short: He’s too big a risk to himself. Relatedly: He is the President of the United States.
Here’s the thing though: Trump’s lawyers are absolutely right! If past is prologue, allowing Mueller to question Trump would be a epic disaster with a President – and a man – who has spent his life making things up forced to confront those falsehoods.
The Times’ report comes after CNN’s reporting last week that Trump’s attorneys are arguing that Mueller’s team hasn’t met the “high threshold” it needs to have Trump sit down in a face-to-face interview.
As the Washington Post reported back in 2016, Trump was deposed as part of a lawsuit he brought in 2006 against a reporter who Trump alleged had defamed him by under-reporting his personal wealth. In that two-day deposition, Trump admitted he had lied – or misled – with his public statements 30 times. Thirty!
“The lawyers confronted the mogul with his past statements — and with his company’s internal documents, which often showed those statements had been incorrect or invented. The lawyers were relentless. Trump, the bigger-than-life mogul, was vulnerable — cornered, out-prepared and under oath …
… Trump had misstated sales at his condo buildings. Inflated the price of membership at one of his golf clubs. Overstated the depth of his past debts and the number of his employees.”
That’s the rule, not the exception, when it comes to how Trump approaches depositions, as CNN’s Marshall Cohen expertly documented last month. Trump has given at least seven depositions over the last decade that have been publicly released, according to Cohen, and they all show a similar pattern: He is often ill-prepared, rarely takes the advice of his legal counsel and often finds himself forced to admit that he said something publicly that simply isn’t true.
“I would say virtually nothing,” Trump said in describing how he prepared in advance of a 2016 deposition. “I spoke with my counsel for a short period of time.”
That sentence would set off alarm bells for any lawyer advising any client about potential future testimony. When that client is the President of the United States, the peril increases – to borrow a Trump term – yugely.
There is absolutely nothing about Trump’s past behavior that would suggest he would do himself any good in a deposition with Mueller, who – no matter what you think of him – is a serious, cerebral and experienced professional.
Which, of course, doesn’t mean Trump won’t do it anyway.
“I am looking forward to it, actually,” Trump said of the potential Mueller sit-down when asked about it last month. “Here is the story: There has been no collusion whatsoever. There is no obstruction whatsoever. And I am looking forward to it.”
If the past year has taught us anything, it should be that Trump does what he wants – almost always.
Could this be an instance in which Trump heeds the advice of his legal counsel? Sure! But, I wouldn’t bet on it.