Mueller lays a trap

The Washington Post reports that Robert Mueller has told President Trump’s legal team that his office will likely seek an interview with the president. I doubt that Trump’s legal team is surprised. It always seemed inevitable that Mueller would want to interview Trump.

What should the president’s response be? I agree with Alan Dershowitz. He says: “I would never let the prosecution interview my client.”

There are two reasons why, in this context, allowing such an interview is a particularly bad idea. First, the client is Donald Trump. He is notorious for imprecision with words and for shooting from the hip. He is probably uncoachable as a witness. Representing him at a deposition or similar proceeding strikes me as a lawyer’s worst nightmare.

Second, the prosecution is Robert Mueller and his team of Trump-hating partisans. Their purpose in interviewing Trump won’t just be to gather the facts needed to wrap up their investigation. In my view, it will also be to induce Trump to make statements the prosecution can use to build a case that the president has lied to the prosecution.

Accordingly, Trump’s legal team should resist being questioned by Mueller’s team. There is precedent for such resistance. As the Post reminds us, Bill Clinton resisted being questioned by Ken Starr’s team, though eventually he was compelled to testify.

In the likely event of a dispute over whether Trump must testify, one issue will be whether the information prosecutors seek can be obtained through another means. In this case, Mueller likely will be cross-checking Trump’s version of events with the versions of others, such as James Comey. In a sense the information will have already been obtained via, say, Comey, Michael Flynn, or Jared Kushner. But in a practical sense, only Trump can provide Trump’s version of what happened.

As noted, though, I believe the purpose of the interview will be more to catch Trump in something Mueller’s team can characterize as a lie than to obtain Trump’s version of the facts. Hence the need to be especially wary.

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