In an interview with Fox News’ Catherine Herridge Thursday night, President Donald Trump was asked about the Mueller report and the possibility of former and current aides being called before Congress to testify amid ongoing oversight investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
“Nobody has ever done what I’ve done,” Trump replied. “I’ve given total transparency. It’s never happened before like this.”
That phrase “total transparency” is Trump’s attempt to cast himself – and his administration – as an open book. He let his aides talk to special counsel Robert Mueller. They did. Mueller found that there was no criminal conspiracy to work with the Russians and decided not to make a recommendation as to whether Trump obstructed justice in his repeated attempts to meddle in the ongoing probe.
But the idea that Trump offered up anything like the “total transparency” he is now touting is beyond laughable for one very simple reason: Trump never sat down with Mueller and his team to answer questions. The end.
Let me put a bit more meat on that bone.
For more than a year, Trump said publicly that he’d like to find a way to sit down with Mueller for a live interview.
“I’m looking forward to it, actually,” Trump said of a potential Mueller sit-down in January 2018. “Here is the story: There has been no collusion whatsoever. There is no obstruction whatsoever. And I am looking forward to it.”
In March 2018, Trump reiterated his desire to do a sitdown interview with Mueller; “Sure, I would like to,” he said.
Dive deep into the Mueller report
As time went on and Mueller’s probe turned over more and more wrongdoing – much of it in the form of Trump associates lying to either Congress or federal prosecutors about the depth and breadth of their interactions with Russians during the 2016 campaign – Trump’s view of a live interview with Mueller dimmed. He submitted written answers to questions submitted by Mueller in November 2018. “The written answers are finished,” Trump said at the time. “The written answers to the witch hunt that’s been going on forever.”
Asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace whether a face-to-face interview remained a possibility, Trump was dismissive: “We’ve wasted enough time on this witch hunt and the answer is probably, we’re finished.”
Why the change? Because Trump’s record of answering questions under oath is, um, not great. Trump has admitted to not preparing for past depositions and often is forced to walk back some of his more grandiose claims – due to concerns about perjuring himself. He also struggles to remember things. As CNN’s Marshall Cohen noted:
“Despite touting his superior memory, Trump said ‘I don’t remember’ or ‘I don’t recall’ about 30 times during the same deposition, when asked about the internal workings of Trump University. It is common for people under oath to give broad answers and say they can’t remember details.”
Despite his boasting, Trump is a bad witness under oath. His lawyers in the Mueller matter quite clearly persuaded him to avoid an in-person interview for fear that the special counsel and his team would be able to prove that some of Trump’s claims were lies or, at best, significant distortions of confirmed facts.
Trump can say many factual things about the Mueller report. He can say that Mueller did not establish collusion-type crimes. He can say Mueller made no recommendation on obstruction and that Attorney General William Barr made the subsequently decision not to press criminal charges, even though a president cannot be charged anyway under the current Justice Department rules.
But, what Trump can’t say is that he has exercised “total transparency” when it comes to the Mueller investigation. He simply did not. For more than a year, he dangled the possibility of a sitdown with Mueller’s team. When the rubber met the road – and, likely, the dangers of perjuring himself were explained – Trump blinked, choosing to hide behind a series of heavily-lawyered answers.
Which is his right! But it’s not “total transparency.” Or anything even close to it.