On Wednesday, in an impromptu press conference that was in defiance of the “Church Lady” in the White House, chief of staff Gen. John Kelly, Trump bristles under some of his orderly chief of staff’s restrictions, President Trump “proceeded to field a rush of questions on the Russia investigation with answers that rattled his lawyers and senior aides and left Kelly dealing with the fallout.”
President Trump said on Wednesday that he was willing and eager to be interviewed by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, insisting that he has done nothing wrong.
“I’m looking forward to it, actually,” Mr. Trump said of talking to Mr. Mueller, answering months of speculation over whether he was willing to submit to questions from the special counsel[.]
“I would love to do that — I’d like to do it as soon as possible,” the president told reporters on Wednesday of the prospect of being interviewed by Mr. Mueller, adding that his lawyers have told him it would be “about two to three weeks” until it takes place. Almost as an afterthought, he added, any such interview would be “subject to my lawyers, and all of that.”
Yeah, that was a big caveat. Let the lawyer walk back begin:
Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer leading the response to the investigation, said Mr. Trump was speaking hurriedly and intended only to say that he was willing to meet.
“He’s ready to meet with them, but he’ll be guided by the advice of his personal counsel,” Mr. Cobb said. He said the arrangements were being worked out between Mr. Mueller’s team and the president’s personal lawyers.
[T]here are no discussions about Mr. Trump speaking before a grand jury, which is how prosecutors speak to witnesses under oath. Interviews with agents and prosecutors are not conducted under oath, but lying to the F.B.I. is a felony.
President Donald Trump’s attorney, John Dowd, told CNN on Thursday that he is the one to decide if the President will sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Trump attorney: I will decide if Trump sits for interview with Mueller:
“I will make the decision on whether the President talks to the special counsel,” Dowd said. “I have not made any decision yet. “
Dowd’s suggestion came a day after Trump’s assertion that he wanted to speak with Mueller, and to do so under oath. It also came on the heels of further comments from Trump’s White House team about the Mueller probe earlier Thursday as negotiations continue for the presidential interview.
If those negotiations break down, Mueller could seek a subpoena to compel wide-ranging testimony from the President before a grand jury [without his lawyers present].
All of this was just prelude to the New York Times breaking news Thursday night that Donald Trump ordered White House Lawyer Donald McGahn to have the Department of Justice fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June of last year, and McGahn refused his order, threatening to resign if he insisted. Trump then backed down. Trump Ordered Mueller Fired, but Backed Off When White House Counsel Threatened to Quit:
President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, according to four people told of the matter, but ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive.
The West Wing confrontation marks the first time Mr. Trump is known to have tried to fire the special counsel. Mr. Mueller learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials in his inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice.
Amid the first wave of news media reports that Mr. Mueller was examining a possible obstruction case, the president began to argue that Mr. Mueller had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation, two of the people said.
First, he claimed that a dispute years ago over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., had prompted Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director at the time, to resign his membership. The president also said Mr. Mueller could not be impartial because he had most recently worked for the law firm that previously represented the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Finally, the president said, Mr. Mueller had been interviewed to return as the F.B.I. director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May.
You may recall that each of these pretextual reasons were aired by Trump as a trial balloon in tweets and amplified in the conservative media entertainment complex, in particular FAUX News (aka Trump TV). These pretextual reasons were laughed off by legal experts and by mainstream media pundits at the time.
After receiving the president’s order to fire Mr. Mueller, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead, the people said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation.
Mr. McGahn disagreed with the president’s case and told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump’s presidency. Mr. McGahn also told White House officials that Mr. Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own. The president then backed off.
The Washington Post later confirmed the Times reporting. Trump moved to fire Mueller in June, bringing White House counsel to the brink of leaving:
President Trump sought the firing of Robert S. Mueller III last June, shortly after the special counsel took over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he backed off only after White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn threatened to resign over the move.
The extraordinary showdown was confirmed by two people familiar with the episode, which was first reported by the New York Times.
McGahn did not deliver his resignation threat directly to Trump but was serious about his threat to leave, according to a person familiar with the episode.
Trump denied the report Friday when asked about it during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“Fake news, folks. Fake news,” Trump told reporters.
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Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, declined to comment. McGahn did not respond to requests for comment.
A White House spokesman referred questions to Ty Cobb, the attorney coordinating the administration’s response to the Russia investigations, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment. John Dowd, an attorney for the president, declined to comment.
Democrats late Thursday renewed their calls for Congress to pass legislation to protect Mueller and future special counsels from being fired by the president. At least two such bills have been introduced in recent months by members of both parties.
Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation of Russian interference, said in a statement that “firing the Special Counsel is a red line that the President cannot cross. Any attempt to remove the Special Counsel, pardon key witnesses, or otherwise interfere in the investigation, would be a gross abuse of power, and all members of Congress, from both parties, have a responsibility to our Constitution and to our country to make that clear immediately.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former state attorney general, described Trump’s attempt to oust Mueller as “remarkable and stunning,” adding in an interview, “it shows the need immediately to protect the special counsel.”
Republican Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.) said in an interview that McGahn “prevented an Archibald Cox moment,” referring to the special prosecutor ordered fired by President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate investigation.
“I believe now that this revelation has been made public, that there will be increasing pressure to protect Mueller,” Dent added.
The Post appears to identify the likely sources for this reporting:
Trump’s ire at Mueller rose to such a level that then-White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon and then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus grew “incredibly concerned” that he was going to fire Mueller and sought to enlist others to intervene with the president, according to a Trump adviser who requested anonymity to describe private conversations.
Both of the men were deeply worried about the possibility and discussed how to keep him from making such a move, this person said.
Priebus and Bannon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In one meeting with other advisers, Bannon raised the concern that if Trump fired Mueller it could trigger a challenge to his presidency based on the 25th Amendment, which lays out the process of who succeeds a president in case of incapacitation.
Despite internal objections, Trump decided to assert that Mueller had unacceptable conflicts of interest and moved to remove him from his position, according to the people familiar with the discussions.
In response, McGahn said he would not remain at the White House if Trump went through with the move, according to a senior administration official.
The president, in turn, backed off.
Since then, Trump brought in a new legal team that has counseled cooperation with Mueller. He has continued to fume about the investigation, even as his lawyers have publicly pledged to work with the special counsel.
The revelation that Trump tried to fire Mueller is yet another piece of evidence for the Special Counsel as he tries to build an obstruction of justice case.
Mueller’s team knows far more than Trump and his lawyers do. Meeting with the Special Counsel, given that Trump is a pathological liar who cannot control his compulsion to lie, risks a perjury charge.
Roger Stone, a GOP ratfucker and longtime adviser to Trump, told The Post that the president would be foolish to agree to such an interview: “Why would you walk into a perjury trap?” No, Trump’s interview with Mueller wouldn’t be a ‘perjury trap’:
The word “trap” connotes a snare set by investigators for the innocent and unwary. Should the president end up charged with perjury or false statements, you can expect to hear arguments that the charges are illegitimate because Mueller unfairly caught the president in a trap. Or perhaps the president and his lawyers will use the perjury-trap claim to justify refusing to be interviewed altogether.
But “perjury trap” is a specific legal defense, related to entrapment. A claim of a perjury trap is really a claim of prosecutorial misconduct. It refers to an abuse of the legal process, whereby a prosecutor subpoenas a witness to testify not for a legitimate investigative purpose but to try to catch him in an inconsistency or falsehood — even a relatively minor one — that can then trigger a perjury charge.
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Being called to testify and therefore having the opportunity to commit perjury does not make that testimony a perjury trap. If that were the case, every witness could make the same argument. Claiming that Trump’s testimony would be a perjury trap is like saying driving a car is a “speeding trap” because being behind the wheel gives you the opportunity to exceed the speed limit.
Characterizing the president’s interview as a potential perjury trap is simply wrong. But it is of a piece with the broader effort by the president and his political allies to discredit Mueller’s investigation. It suggests — wrongly — that Mueller is treating the president unfairly. If the president commits perjury or false statements, it will be because he chose to lie — not because he was caught in a “trap.”
Things are about to get real.