Much of the impetus for the current Special Counsel investigation can be attributed to two equally disastrous decisions: the decision to fire FBI Director James Comey in the midst of the Russian Investigation and the meeting of Donald Trump Jr. with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. While I continue to doubt that the meeting (or the later misleading statement issued by Trump Jr.) constituted any type of crime, I have previously written that it was an astonishingly dumb decision to go (with both Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort) to this meeting. I have little doubt that the Clintons would have eagerly accepted the same information, but they would have used surrogates as they did with the Steele dossier. Now Trump Jr. is dismissing the very idea that his father would sit down with Mueller. While this is certainly a good-faith disagreement among lawyers, Trump Jr. is wrong again about a meeting. There are perfectly good reasons for his father to go to such a meeting and interview, but it should have been done months ago as I previously discussed.
Trump Jr. stated on “Fox and Friends” that “I wouldn’t do it. I think it would be stupid.” He added
“I don’t think any proper lawyer would say, ‘Hey, you should go do it,’ because it’s not about collusion anymore.’ It’s about, ‘Can we get him to say something that may be interpreted as somewhat off or inaccurate, and after 50,000 questions, maybe you make a mistake, and that’s how we get you, and that’s ridiculous.”
Putting aside the towering irony in the advice on stupid meetings, the President’s legal team has been split on the issue because the refusal could well lead to a subpoena fight that Trump would lose. He would have create bad precedent and the image of being forced to answer questions — thereby fueling narratives of obstruction and the appearance of guilt. The question is what will be achieved and at what cost. It is possible to prep a witness, including Trump, for such an interview if there is an agreement on well-defined areas of questioning.
In the end, there are clearly good reasons not to go to the interview, which is without question a risk. However, lawyers often opt for advising witnesses from not taking the stand or going into such interviews. You cannot be blamed for something that goes wrong if you advice against taking any risk at all. However, there is a failure to consider how this would playout in the various scenarios. Precisely the failure that led to the Trump tower meeting.
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