Why it's so hard for Trump to simply tell Mueller 'the truth'

Yahoo News
President Trump speaks during a meeting with state leaders about prison reform, Aug. 9, 2018, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)
President Trump speaks during a meeting with state leaders about prison reform, Aug. 9, 2018, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

For months now, President Trump’s legal team has been locked in negotiations about whether the president will agree to sit for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating his 2016 presidential campaign’s ties to the Russian government and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice.

Fearing that such an interview would place the president in legal jeopardy, many Trump defenders have floated interesting explanations as to why sitting face-to-face with Mueller and his team and answering questions should not be required of the commander in chief. Here are some of the justifications they have offered:

‘Prone to hyberbole’

In a Thursday interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was asked why, if the president has nothing to hide, he doesn’t simply “tell the truth and get it over with.”

“Well, what I would say to that, if you understand the president’s communications style, and this is going back for 45 years, he’s prone to some levels of hyperbole and he’s prone to some levels of you know, what my grandfather would say — we sometimes remember things the way we would like to remember them as opposed to how they actually happened,” Scaramucci replied. “And so, what would be at risk there is you put him in that room, he believes in his heart and in his brain that he’s done absolutely nothing wrong, he wears everything on his sleeve, and he misstates a few things and he gets nailed for perjury as opposed to obstruction of justice or collusion. So I think that’s the worry I think a legal team would have in a situation like that with somebody like the president and his personality.”

Pressed by Blitzer on whether Trump’s lawyers were concerned that he might commit perjury, Scaramucci continued, “His personality is such that he likes to embellish stories.”

‘You are trying to trap him into perjury’

On Wednesday, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani appeared on Sean Hannity’s program on Fox News and reiterated his belief that Mueller would set a “perjury trap” for the president by having him testify under oath about his role in the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower as well as his motivation for firing former FBI director James Comey.

“Why do you want to get him under oath? Do you think we’re fools? You want to get him under oath because you want to trap him into perjury,” Giuliani said, referring to the special counsel, adding, “Stop the nonsense. You are trying to trap him into perjury, because you don’t have a case.”

A “perjury trap” is a maneuver by prosecutors to force a target to choose between admitting to incriminating behavior and lying under oath. An example is the investigation of President Bill Clinton by independent counsel Ken Starr, during which Clinton in a sworn deposition falsely denied a sexual encounter with intern Monica Lewinsky, which became an article in his impeachment. But it’s unclear why Mueller’s questioning of Trump would constitute a perjury trap, unless Trump had something to hide.

During a Wednesday phone interview with CNN, Giuliani floated another reason why the president would forestall testifying to Mueller: Doing so might help Republicans in the midterms.

“When I first got involved, I would have told you not testifying would be the right legal strategy but then hurt politically,” Giuliani said. “Now I’m thinking the continuance of the investigation would actually help because people are getting tired of it, and [the president] needs something to energize his voters because the Democrats look like they’re energized. Nothing would energize [Republicans] more than, ‘Let’s save the president.’”

‘Serious constitutional implications’

Jay Sekulow, another member of Trump’s legal team, argued Wednesday on “Hannity” that Trump testifying to Mueller would itself violate the U.S. Constitution.

“This is not a trial. This is a political process that is going forward,” Sekulow said. “The constitutional issues … in fact are the major issues that this investigation turns on. There are serious constitutional implications not just for this president, but for the presidency, and that’s what history will remember.”

Over the weekend, Sekulow tried a different tack, telling ABC’s “This Week” that Trump was absolved from being grilled by Mueller by what Sekulow portrayed as a simple fact.

“It’s hard-pressed to see why they need the president’s testimony,” Sekulow said.

‘He spoke gibberish’

In her forthcoming book, “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” former White House official Omarosa Manigault-Newman’s account of the president’s interview with NBC’s Lester Holt may offer more insight as to why Trump’s legal team may not want to let him testify.

According to Manigault-Newman, White House staffers prepped the president to say that he had fired Comey solely based on a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But when the cameras began taping, Trump veered off-course, telling Holt that his decision had more to do with the Russia investigation.

“Donald rambled. He spoke gibberish. He contradicted himself from one sentence to the next,” Manigault-Newman wrote, adding, “While watching the interview I realized that something real and serious was going on in Donald’s brain. His mental decline could not be denied.”

Of course, the president has said for months that he would like to talk to Mueller.

“I am looking forward to it, actually,” Trump told reporters in January. “Here is the story: There has been no collusion whatsoever. There is no obstruction whatsoever. And I am looking forward to it.”

In May, the president still sounded eager to speak with the special counsel. “Nobody wants to speak more than me,” Trump told reporters.

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