The biggest question left in Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election: Will President Donald Trump sit down for an interview with the special counsel?
The answer to that question varies – widely – depending on who within Trump’s inner circle you talk to. We know – thanks to The Washington Post – that now-former Trump attorney John Dowd was adamantly opposed to it. Others on his legal team – Jay Sekulow and Ty Cobb – seem concerned that if Trump doesn’t talk to Mueller, or at least submit himself to questioning perhaps in written form, that it would be politically disastrous for him. CNN has reported that Trump vacillates between wanting to sit down for an interview and not.
What we’ve learned from the first 15 months of Trump’s presidency, however, is that only one person’s opinion really matters – and that person is Donald John Trump. And judging from his public comments, it’s clear where Trump stands on talking to Mueller: He wants to do it.
Last month, Trump reiterated that desire. “Sure, I would like to,” he said of a Mueller interview.
There are some who see Trump’s public bravado about a Mueller meeting as simply a piece of a well-orchestrated effort to keep him from testifying. That theory goes like this: Trump insists he wants to talk but eventually – woe is him! – gives in to the demands of his overly cautious lawyer who forbid him from doing so.
That approach has the effect of Trump looking innocent and willing to talk without having to, you know, actually talk.
That may be what is happening here. But I tend to think Trump is sincere in his push to sit down with Mueller, that he actually wants to do it. Here’s why:
- This special counsel probe makes Trump insane. It irritates him. It wears on him. He wants it over yesterday. And he knows that the best – and maybe only – way for that to happen is for him to give Mueller what the former FBI director wants: An interview.
- Trump believes he has nothing to hide. Even as the guilty pleas from Trump campaign associates have piled up, Trump has been absolutely adamant that he took part in “no collusion” with the Russians and has zero to hide. And I believe he believes that. (No one really knows, of course.) Given all of that, why not sit down with Mueller?
- Trump is supremely confident in himself. Remember that Trump believes himself to be one of the great salesmen and persuaders of all time. He thinks he can convince anyone of anything. That includes Mueller – especially because so many Washington types, who Trump almost reflexively distrusts, tout the former FBI director as one of the brightest and most serious people in the country, which makes Trump want to convince him all the more.
- Trump likes the idea of a one-on-one faceoff. Trump loves drama. He loves the idea of staring someone down across a board room table, taking their measure and emerging triumphant. This is how Trump views everything in life – tests of mettle. This one – the President vs. the special counsel – is so Trumpian it’s impossible for Trump not to want to do it.
Now. The fact that Trump said back in January that he would be sitting down with Mueller in the next few weeks and that it’s April and he hasn’t done so yet is worth noting. Of course, it’s also worth pointing out that Dowd, the leading advocate for Trump to avoid a Mueller interview, is now gone from the legal team.
Until Trump actually walks into a room with Mueller, it’s worth being somewhat skeptical of whether he will actually do so. (Trump has promised lots and lots of things that he’s not followed through on. Remember how he was going to sue all the women who alleged he had behaved inappropriately toward them?)
But I think there’s plenty of reason to believe that Trump views the Mueller faceoff as not only the best chance to prove his innocence but also to prove his dominance over a man he’s sick of hearing praised.
And I’m not sure Trump can resist jumping at that opportunity.