In just the latest in a string of signs that the White House is buckling under the weight of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal, lawyers for the president are reportedly considering playing one of the last cards in their hand.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that “the president’s legal team is considering telling Mr. Mueller that Mr. Trump would agree to a sit-down interview based on multiple considerations, including that the special counsel commit to a date for concluding at least the Trump-related portion of the investigation.”
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Another consideration for the legal team is reaching an agreement with Mr. Mueller on the scope of his questioning of the president, which they expect to focus largely on his decision to fire former national security adviser Mike Flynn and former FBI director James Comey, according to people familiar with the matter.
The number the president’s lawyers are tossing around for consideration is 60 days, meaning that they would insist Robert Mueller commit to closing his investigation within 60 days of any interview he’s granted with Trump.
The very idea of subjecting the president to an interview with the special counsel’s office has been a side show to the broader investigation for months, and Trump’s lawyers – and their client – have flip-flopped over whether or not he would cooperate.
At first, the president took the posture that he had nothing to hide, and so of course he’d be willing to testify in the investigation. After Robert Mueller secured guilty pleas from multiple people associated with the president’s campaign, however, his lawyers began to walk those statements back.
There’s also concern among many Trump supporters inside and outside the White House that, once under oath in front of Robert Mueller or the grand jury, the president’s tendency to spout answers completely unwed to facts could lead him to perjure himself.
Since then, they’ve sought to delay all attempts to negotiate any kind of meeting or interview between the president and the special counsel. They’ve never said no to an interview explicitly, because that could invite a subpoena, but they’ve also strung out all inquires and attempts to do so.
The fact that his lawyers appear willing to negotiate the terms of his testimony, however, suggests that they know they’re running out of time. It also indicates that they’ve accepted that their hand in this poker game with Robert Mueller is particularly weak, and their only chance to avoid going bust is to bet early and try to set the terms.
Mueller’s got all the chips, however, and won’t be easily fooled.
Original reporting by the Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus and Peter Nicholas.