Trump fears the truth and Mueller

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - OPINION - Jay Book­man

When Don­ald Trump is scared, all the blus­ter in the world can’t disguise his fright. And it has be­come pretty clear that the three things that scare Trump the most are Robert Mueller, Vladimir Putin and telling the truth.

For the mo­ment, let’s set aside the mys­te­ri­ous in­tim­i­da­tion that Putin wreaks on Trump, re­duc­ing the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent to a quiv­er­ing, ea­ger-to-please kiss-up when­ever Trump is in his pres­ence. In­stead, let’s con­cen­trate on Trump’s aver­sion to Mueller and the truth, be­cause those two fears are closely in­ter­twined.

Trump fears sit­ting down be­fore the spe­cial coun­sel be­cause he knows he would be stripped of his great­est de­fense mech­a­nisms. He can’t lie, he can’t in­vent, he can’t weave a fan­tasy re­al­ity out of malarkey and moon­beams and try to sell it as fac­tual. Mueller is not a Trump rally crowd, ea­ger and will­ing to swal­low any non­sense their hero feeds them. He is not a “Fox & Friends” host, kow­tow­ing to their great­est rat­ings draw. Be­fore Mueller, Trump would have to tell the truth, the whole truth and noth­ing but the truth.

That’s why Trump and his le­gal team are re­fus­ing to al­low that tes­ti­mony to take place. They re­al­ize the dis­as­ter that would en­sue if Trump is put in that sit­u­a­tion.

Of course, that’s not how they’re try­ing to spin it. Their strat­egy to keep Trump from hav­ing to tes­tify in the Rus­sia probe has three ba­sic com­po­nents:

1.) They com­plain that Mueller is try­ing to set some­thing called a “per­jury trap” for the pres­i­dent, which is ba­si­cally their way of ad­mit­ting that if put un­der oath and asked ques­tions about Rus­sia, their client would prob­a­bly lie. The truth ought to be your friend in such a sit­u­a­tion: If you tell the truth, you can­not com­mit per­jury. But based on their re­ac­tion, telling the truth would not be an op­tion for Trump.

2.) Trump’s team says they will agree to an in­ter­view, but only if Mueller agrees to ask just those ques­tions that they al­low him to ask, only on top­ics that they hand­pick, and only in the form that they al­low him to put them. Ba­si­cally, the ground rules that they want Mueller to ac­cept would limit the prose­cu­tor to ques­tions of the sort that Trump fields from Sean Han­nity.

Mueller is un­likely to ac­cept those lim­i­ta­tions, and Trump’s le­gal team knows it.

So where do we go from here? It’s pos­si­ble — though I think un­likely — that Mueller doesn’t re­ally need Trump’s tes­ti­mony, that his re­quests for an in­ter­view with the pres­i­dent have been an ef­fort to demon­strate open­ness to his in­put. If that’s the case, Mueller will now con­tinue with his in­ves­ti­ga­tion, is­su­ing in­dict­ments and sub­poe­nas as needed, and even­tu­ally pro­duce a re­port on what he has found.

But if Mueller does need Trump’s tes­ti­mony, if he be­lieves that Trump wit­nessed and did things dur­ing the cam­paign and as pres­i­dent that he needs to ex­plain, things get dif­fi­cult. Mueller would then be forced to is­sue a sub­poena against Trump, re­quir­ing him to tes­tify or claim the Fifth, and that’s where his de­fense team’s third strat­egy comes into play.

Trump and his lawyers, in­clud­ing Rudy Gi­u­liani, claim that a sit­ting pres­i­dent can­not be in­dicted or sub­poe­naed. They’re prob­a­bly right about an in­dict­ment, but prob­a­bly wrong about a sub­poena. As one no­table at­tor­ney put it a few years back, if a pres­i­dent is sub­poe­naed to tes­tify, “You gotta do it. I mean you don’t have a choice ... the pres­i­dent should be treated — as far as the crim­i­nal law is con­cerned, the pres­i­dent is a cit­i­zen.”

That at­tor­ney was of course Gi­u­liani; the year was 1998.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.