Mr. President, Take The Mueller Deal

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the reported proposal that President Donald Trump sit down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to address four specific areas of inquiry.  Those areas just happen to be the ones where Trump has the strongest and most obvious defenses.  If the deal is that this would be a one-time sit down (and any later issues would be addressed in written interrogatories), it is a deal that would be hard to pass up. It is not without considerable risks of course, particularly for any false statement allegations. However, if the President were ready to be properly prepped and listens to counsel, he could thread this needle.  It would also avoid a fight over a subpoena.  While the law on the question is hardly settled, Mueller could win such a court fight and force Trump into an interview.  Both the political and constitutional costs of such a fight should be avoided.

Here is the column:

Special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly made an offer to Donald Trump’s legal team on the parameters of an interview as part of the Russia investigation. If true, this is a deal the president should seriously consider.

According to the press, Mueller is offering an interview on four main areas: the Trump Tower meeting with Russian sources and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s role in putting out a misleading account of that meeting, the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, and the meeting of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Notably missing from that list are the subjects that should be the greatest concern for Trump, including his financial dealings (including deals on a Trump Tower in Moscow) and the payments to alleged paramours Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal and others to remain silent before the election.

What is most striking about these areas is that they happen to be the areas where, even if things go badly, Trump has strong defenses. It does not mean that Mueller could not charge on these allegations, but he would likely lose on the evidence currently known. Obviously, this will require careful preparation and Trump would have to exercise uncharacteristic levels of control in his answers. The president’s just-resigned counsel, John Dowd, reportedly may have doubted the ability to keep Trump out of a perjury trap. Yet, with the exception of a false statement or some undisclosed bombshell evidence, these limits are as good as it is going to get, and it could get worse.

Trump Tower

The meeting of Trump Jr., former Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others in Trump Tower in New York was based on a promise to share evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation. Rod Goldstone, a promoter acquainted with the Trumps, told Trump Jr., “This is obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Once at the relatively short meeting, Veselnitskaya reportedly focused on sanctions of the Magnitsky Act, including the bar on Russian adoptions. Veselnitskaya had worked for years against the ban and raised it with Democrats and Republicans alike. Indeed, when she was turned down for a visa during the Obama administration, she was granted a “special immigration parole” to enter the United States by President Obama’s attorney general, Loretta Lynch.

If the meeting were part of a secret collusion, this would be a rather curious way to go about it, calling a conspiratorial meeting in an email at Trump Tower with unknown attendees. What is clear is that, as late as June 2016, a meeting with the Russians had to be arranged through a friend with a promise of criminal evidence to secure a meeting. Goldstone has admitted publicly that he “hyped the message” to get a meeting with Trump Jr. Even if Veselnitskaya had supplied evidence of criminal conduct by the Clintons or opposition research, it would not have constituted a crime.

Moreover, the Clinton campaign not only paid a huge amount to gather potentially incriminating evidence on Trump but the resulting dossier was composed by a former British spy with information from Russians. The Clinton campaign long denied any connection to the dossier and only admitted the funding relatively recently, when confronted by reporters. If Mueller wants a criminal charge on that record, he will likely lose.

Air Force One

Rather than taking the obvious path of making full disclosure, Trump Jr. issued a misleading statement about the meeting. The statement said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” and emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.” The statement, reportedly dictated by President Trump on Air Force One, did not disclose the stated purpose of the meeting or promise of material from the Russian government.

Like the Trump Tower meeting, the statement was another self-inflicted wound. Nevertheless, there was no crime in holding the meeting, and it was not a crime to spin the resulting controversy. Politicians have long spun scandals. When confronted about NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s disclosure of a massive surveillance program on American citizens, President Obama went on Jay Leno’s show and proclaimed, “There is no spying on Americans.” His CIA director, James Clapper, went before Congress and denied the existence of such a program, a statement he admitted later was a lie.

For her part, Hillary Clinton adopted a series of denials and defenses in her email scandal, including statements now established as false. The State Department later refuted her claim that she was given approval to use her personal server for State Department business. Obviously, some spins can become criminal matters, such as Bill Clinton lying under oath that he never had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky and then insisting that it depended on “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” If Mueller wants to charge Trump with spinning a scandal, he would have to frog march virtually every member of Congress and every living president to federal lockup.

James Comey

Perhaps the greatest blunder of this administration was Comey’s firing. Trump not only fired him in the midst of the Russian investigation but raised the investigation repeatedly with Comey before firing him. The problem is that Trump had ample reason to fire Comey, despite the poor timing of the decision. While Trump admitted in an interview that he was thinking of the Russian investigation when he fired Comey, he did not say that was the reason for the firing.

In a memo, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein listed former attorneys general, judges and leading prosecutors who believed Comey “violated his obligation to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the traditions of the department and the FBI” and “violated long-standing Justice Department policies and tradition.” He also noted that Comey “refused to admit his errors.”

Moreover, Comey himself admitted under oath that Trump agreed with him that the Russian investigation should run its course. (Trump was reportedly angry that Comey had told members of Congress that he was not under investigation but refused to confirm that publicly). Firing Comey would not have ended the Russian investigation, and there is no evidence that Trump sought to bar further investigation. Even if Mueller were to secure an indictment on that mixed record, he would have to call Comey, who is damaged goods, as a witness.

Not only did Comey leak information to the press after his firing but, according to fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Comey knew of his giving sensitive information to the press on the Clinton investigation. Comey expressly denied leaking information or approving such leaks by subordinates in testimony to Congress. Mueller could call Comey as a witness, but a jury might have difficulty seeing the moral high ground from where Comey is sitting.

Michael Flynn

Finally, there is Michael Flynn, charged with misleading federal investigators on his discussions with Russian diplomats. There was nothing illegal or unprecedented in Flynn meeting during the Trump presidential transition with the Russians, or his discussion of sanctions. However, he reportedly denied discussing sanctions and pleaded guilty to making a false statement.

Trump asked Comey to go easy on Flynn after Flynn resigned. This has been widely portrayed as evidence of obstruction or witness tampering. However, Trump could simply argue that he felt Flynn had already suffered enough with the resignation and was expressing loyalty for a longtime friend and supporter. Mueller could always try to portray the comments as obstructive rather than empathetic, but that is pretty thin soup for a criminal case against Trump.

None of this means Trump cannot get himself into serious danger in an interview, with incautious or false statements. There also is the possibility of undisclosed evidence, particularly as a result of Flynn’s cooperation agreement. However, these four categories represent the most predictable, frontal assaults on Trump where the armor is the thickest. Trump will have counsel present and can insist that any later questions or issues be addressed in written interrogatories to counsel. In an otherwise bad situation, that is not a bad deal.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

278 thoughts on “Mr. President, Take The Mueller Deal”

  1. @JT: “Mr. President, Take the Mueller Deal”

    “Special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly made an offer to Donald Trump’s legal team on the parameters of an interview as part of the Russia investigation. If true, this is a deal the president should
    seriously consider.

    “According to the press, Mueller is offering an interview on four main areas: the Trump Tower meeting with Russian sources and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s role in putting out a misleading account of that meeting, the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, and the meeting of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.”

    Before taking JT’s advice, Trump may want to see what happens regarding the very interesting point raised by Paul Manafort’s attorneys about the legal basis for Mueller’s mandate:

    “Paul Manafort‘s legal team brought a motion to dismiss on Tuesday, noting that Rosenstein could not appoint Mueller to any investigation outside the scope of the 2016 campaign since Sessions did not recuse himself for anything outside the campaign. I agree with this take on Mueller’s authority.

    “If we follow that argument, that would mean Sessions himself has exclusive authority to appoint a special counsel for non-collusion charges, and Sessions has taken no such action. Sessions himself should make that clear to Mueller, rather than await court resolution. Doing so would remove three of the four areas of inquiry from Mueller’s requested interview with President Trump.” [Emphasis added]

  2. Politico reported today about Rick Gates’ contact with Konstantin Kilimnik (interesting Russian friends).

    1. Linda, March 28, 2018 at 1:14 PM
      “Politico reported today about Rick Gates’ contact with Konstantin Kilimnik (interesting Russian friends).”

      Thanks for yet another trivial factoid, Linda. 🙂

      You should publish as a book all your comments here___ you could call it True Political Trivia: How to Disconnect the Dots.

      1. Far less important but, interesting, Ben Carson, like Republican men (Va. Gov. Grifty and Chris Christie) who throw women under the bus at the first opportunity says his wife is responsible for the $31,000 dining room table for his office.

    1. Redacted Tonight, source of the posted video- “… ‘The Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet’ …” (NYT June, 7, 2017)

      1. @Linda, March 28, 2018 at 10:40 AM
        “Redacted Tonight, source of the posted video- ‘… ‘The Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet’ …” (NYT June, 7, 2017)”

        As itself a principal propaganda outlet for the US Power Elite (See for example, Judith Miller’s serial “exposes” re Iraq’s WMD), the NYT sees any systematically serious critic of the US government as an opposing propaganda outlet.

        Fortunately, the increasingly obvious decrepitude of “The Gray Lady” is of a piece with its diminishing influence.

        If you want another perspective regarding L’affaire Cambridge Analytica, check this out:

    2. Is the video from a site described in the NYT, June 7, 2017, as “…’The Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet’…”. Redacted Tonight?

  3. So Sarkozy, who in tandem with HRC destroyed Libya was indicted in France last week. Among various charges it came out that he intervened on the behalf of child traffickers — as did his friends the Clintons in Haiti.

    Can we hope for a “Butterfly Effect”??

    “Opinion: Sarkozy Indicted For Corruption, As Clinton Cabal Crumbles”


    “The Clinton-Silsby Trafficking Scandal And How The Media Covered It Up”

    1. Thanks for those Autumn. I just remember that at the time Sarkosy was really pi$$ed at Gaddafi, thought he had been duped… and well… enter the F-16s…

    2. So Sarkozy, who in tandem with HRC destroyed Libya

      It might occur to you that the militiamen who had skin in the game and did the actual fighting had and have agency.

  4. It appears the company of those lawyers rejecting Trump has greater prestige than that of those accepting.
    Recent “no’s” from Buchanan, Webb and Olsen.

    1. Dr. Benson, CV Brown has been posting comments under alternate names and possibly from a new address because so many of his comments under the name CV Brown were being deleted or blocked. Paul seems to think that the comments posted under the name Nutchacha is insufferable were posted by CV Brown. If so, then CV Brown has finally decided to strut a bit his vocabulary stuff on the blawg.

      1. Actually, it’s hard to tell exactly what Paul C. Schulte might be thinking with respect to CV Brown.

  5. FWIW Some reactions to Obama’ s comment

    Obama wants to create a million centrist sleeper agents who can leverage identity politics enough to dupe the electorate into voting for a business-as-usual neoliberalist. Call it ‘Boys From Barack’.


    Weird that when he was president and the democrats were in power & had complete control of government with filibuster proof senate he didn’t propose any gun legislation.


    A million young Baracks to drop each 26K bombs/year, to starve hundreds of thousand Yemenis to death, deport more people than any other President and not close Guantanamo and not hold WallStr accountable for ruining millions of lives, so they can give 400k/h speeches later? Nice.


    To say he did nothing is hardly fair though… He did get Romneycare (sp) passed. There is no way a GOP president could have managed that. Forcing everyone to buy something from for profit corporations under threat of fines and arrest…!? Genius!


    Sarah Abdallah

    Because who else can pose as an anti-gun-violence role model than the hypocrite who sent billions of dollars in guns and heavy weapons to jihadists in Syria and Libya?


    Sarah Abdallah Retweeted The Guardian

    One single Obama paved the way for slave markets in Libya. So no thank you. We can definitely do without a million others

    1. The south Arabian territories have suffered five insurgencies in the last 60 years. Obama is not the author of their problems. They are the author of their problems.

  6. CV Brown – complain directly to JT. His email is listed on the home page of the blog. Cannot remember where, but it is there.

  7. See Andrew McCarthy’s assessment of the investigation. Mueller was appointed to undertake a counter-intelligence investigation, not a criminal investigation. Rosenstein has avoided defining, as the statute requires, the scope of the investigation or enforcing any such boundaries. Mueller’s authority under the law is suspect and Trump should do nothing to pay heed to it until such time as Rosenstein and Mueller comply with the law.

    1. Yes. Just like in anybody seeking a meeting they (Muler, Rostenstine etc) need to clearly state their purpose (probable cause for example) before such meeting invitation can be accepted. And any acceptance of meeting needs to include sharing of all evidence gathered by Muler to date within defined areas of discussion, otherwise no f____ing way such meeting invitation accepted.

      1. Does Mueller have a crime that Trump is alleged to have committed? If not, then the purpose of the interview would be what? Trump should tell him he’s prepared to provide the least untruthful answers to his questions. I seem to recall that has worked in front of the Senate before. Or, I don’t recall. Or, to the best of my recollection, but so much time has passed and I’m not sure.

        P.S. I was busy yesterday and didn’t get to this thread until this morning. I didn’t miss much; the usual suspects doing their usual thing. Very thin on actual law. But that makes it a whole lot easier to get through the posts.

  8. Father of Pulse nightclub shooter was an 11 year FBI asset – why didn’t this come out under greasy Lynch, Comey and Co? An0maly asks questions.

    1. Either the FBI kept the information from the prosecutors or the prosecutors were afraid the dirt would come out in open court so fessed up to the defense.

      1. It’s possible the wife’s defense counsel filed a motion for discovery under the Classified Information Procedures Act. Or not.

    2. So the Pulse Nightclub shooting was a devious plot by the FBI..?? And the entire Obama administration was in on it..?? I suppose if one only knows what they see in youtube videos, they would have a decidedly warped view of current affairs.

      1. That does seem to be the “thought process” at work with Autumn: Secrecy breeds suspicion; suspicion fuels paranoia; paranoia yields wild-eyed conspiracy theories. Although, technically speaking, Autumn did not say that the Orlando massacre was a false flag operation. Maybe An0maly insinuated it.

        1. @Late4Dinner, March 27, 2018 at 8:42 AM
          “That does seem to be the ‘thought process’ at work with Autumn: Secrecy breeds suspicion; suspicion fuels paranoia; paranoia yields wild-eyed conspiracy theories.”

          Do you mean wild-eyed conspiracy theories such as that agents of the Russian government hacked the DNC emails in order to help Trump win the election? Or is that disqualified as such because a few Clinton-friendly members of the US intelligence community came up with it?

          When someone accuses another of being a “conspiracy theorist,” we should know that the accuser is simply trying to smear the accused, rather than analyzing the available evidence for and against a given phenomenon.

          It’s a dishonest and feeble-minded tactic, created by the CIA to discredit critics of the Warren Commission and echoed relentlessly ever since by the CIA-friendly corporate media, but whose persuasive power, even among the easily duped, is on the wane, largely thanks to the internet and independent news sources.

          Try another tack.

  9. “Mr. President, Take The Mueller Deal” – a ridiculous deal with the hatchetman for a corrupt, illegal and unconstitutional, “deep state” coup d’etat in America. The President shouldn’t take a deal. The President should have Mueller, Rosenstein and their accomplices in the “deep state” arrested and prosecuted for insurrection and treason.

    Sleepyhead Sessions, “…a dupe which will live in infamy…” should resign and emigrate to Patmos.

    The entire leadership of the FBI has been fired, reassigned or is under suspicion, per the IG. How and why would the President accommodate insurrectionist traitors conducting a coup d’etat in America? How can Obergruppenfuhrer Mueller find “Russian collusion” when the U.S. Congress* could not?

    “Collusion” is not a crime.

    His Excellency Rod Rosenstein illegally usurped power, abused power and misappointed a special counsel for an “international counter-intelligence” operation, not a crime with articulable facts. If Rod Rosenstein and his the “deep state” are in control of America through their political “witch hunt”, the People aren’t. What’s wrong with this picture? Who elected Rod Rosenstein, his “deep state” congress and his hatchetman, Obergruppenfuhrer Mueller?

    “When you strike the king, you must kill him?”

    “House intel Republicans end their Trump-Russia probe, claiming there was no collusion.

    They also dispute the US intel community finding that Russia preferred Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

    Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), who today announced House Intelligence Committee Republicans don’t believe Trump colluded with Russia.

    Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have concluded their year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Their key finding: Neither President Donald Trump nor anyone involved in his campaign colluded with Russia.”

    – VOX

    1. This “Deep State” entity which you have so cleverly unmasked is alarming. It seems that through your amazing sleuthing skills, you have revealed for all the world to see, a nefarious cabal of ne’er-do-wells, obviously hell-bent on eradicating our ‘Merican way of life; our love of apple pie and televised bowling; fluoridating our precious bodily fluids; or some other similarly dastardly deed. Well done Inspector, well done.

      this is to “Inspector Gadget, at your service” georgie – paulie

    2. George asked, “Who elected Rod Rosenstein, his “deep state” congress and his hatchetman, Obergruppenfuhrer Mueller?”

      Whoever elected Trump gave Trump the authority to hire Rosenstein and the power to fire Comey. When Trump fired Comey, Trump converted Comey’s counter-intelligence investigation into a special counsel’s investigation. Ergo, whoever elected Trump has no one but Trump to blame for the special counsel’s investigation. I wonder for whom George voted.

    1. What did Mr.. Kimmel have to say about his own sexual transgressions or those of FDR, JFK, RFK, LBJ, MLK and WJC?

      1. It is inevitable that the moral depravity of the present occupant of the White House will take precedence over other people’s moral failures, especially since all but one of them are dead and have already answered for their sins.

        Cordially, Bill

        1. So you’re saying that President Trump’s “moral depravity” is more “morally depraved” than the stipulated “moral depravity” of FDR, JFK, RFK, LBJ, MLK and WJC, whose “moral depravity” is permanently recorded in the annals of “moral depravity”, so we should think less of that one “morally depraved” individual than other “morally depraved” individuals because his “moral depravity” is more “morally depraved” than the “moral depravity” of the others?

  10. Flashback Monday

    TalkingPointsMemo leftwingnut site attacked Donald Trump in August 2016 for possibly delegitimizing a Hillary win.

    Will Delegitimizing A Clinton Presidency Outlast Trump’s Campaign?
    “Much more alarming is the language about the election rigged,” Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard University, told TPM.

    Now that the shoe is on the other foot, here come the Russians who rigged our election.

    cue Hillary’s lawyerly ingenious reset button…×399.jpg

  11. Trump wants a lawyer who’s a Mafia-type enforcer like Roy Cohn, and his much less capable imitator, Michael Cohen. Trump doesn’t give a crap about the law.

    I imagine diGenova and Toensing were clear that they wouldn’t sign onto the Trump loyalty pledge since they still have a law practice and reputations [that haven’t already been damaged by his conspiracy theory rants on Fox] to protect.

    Turley and Dershowitz have been almost literally drooling on TV and in editorials in order to get a WH gig. So, they should go for it. There isn’t a force on earth that could prepare Trump for an interview with the Mueller team. Their best strategy would be to have him say, “I don’t recall” about 5000 times while forgetting his bifocals so he pretend he can see or read whatever they put in front of him.

      1. I think you meant that for me. If so, you’re welcome. Trump may still be able to slither out of this because he has the power of the presidency on his side. But, he has nothing else going for him at the moment. I mean, look at how he botched the diGenova thing which caused his lead lawyer, Dodd, to quit. Poor fella, he’s really in the midst of a karma tsunami of his own making. Karma always wins.

          1. mespo – karma says Teddy Kennedy dies in a boating accident with 3 hookers.

            1. That or Teddy died when an illegal immigrant holding the “bridge out”sign leaves his post to register for Hillary 2016 Campaign.

                  1. In order for karma to extend over lifetimes, there must be reincarnation. Humor is optional.

                    1. Hermionus Asinus is the finest animal ever to trod the face of the Earth. Just ask your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

      1. We could use more like Landrieu. Maybe they’re all bury doing real work out in the real world. Or maybe they’re afraid that insanity might be contagious. OMG! What if they’re right?

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