What Happens When the Liar-in-Chief Goes Under Oath?

Recently we learned that Special Counsel Mueller wants to interview Trump. My first thought when I heard the news is that he must be nearing the end of his investigation if he’s ready to question the principal player on questions about whether there was collusion with Russia and/or obstruction of justice. But Cristian Farias makes another good point: no sane lawyer would let Trump sit for an interview with Mueller.

“The man’s uncontrollable. He’s a loose cannon,” the person with knowledge of the Mueller investigation said. “No matter how much you prep him, no matter what small words you use to explain to him the potential landmines he could step on … he will leap in blindly and say whatever pops into his head, and that could be a potential disaster.”

Beyond the president’s impulsiveness, there are other problems for Trump’s lawyers to contend with. The first is that, if he’s guilty, any questioning by Mueller’s team would amount to a perjury trap. In order to defend himself, Trump would have to lie.

But the real problem is that this is a president who doesn’t seem capable of distinguishing between the truth and a lie. The fact-checkers at the Washington Post have documented that, in the time period between his inauguration and today, Trump made “false or misleading claims” 2,001 times, for an average of 5.6 lies per day. All it would take is one for this president to be guilty of perjury. Given what we know about Trump, that would pretty much be a given.

That is precisely why Trump’s lawyers are scrambling.

 Trump’s legal team is seeking clarification on whether the president would be interviewed directly by Mueller, as well as the legal standard for when a president can be interviewed, the location of a possible interview, the topics and the duration. But the president’s team is also seeking potential compromises that could avoid an interview altogether, two of those interviewed told NBC News…

In addition to the possibility of suggesting the president submit written responses in place of an interview, a second person familiar with the president’s legal strategy said another possibility being contemplated was an affidavit signed by the president affirming he was innocent of any wrongdoing and denying any collusion.

Unfortunately for Trump, the Republicans have already set a precedent for how to handle this kind of thing. Ken Starr didn’t simply request an interview with Bill Clinton, he subpoenaed him to appear before a grand jury. Eventually negotiations settled on a taped interview of the president before the grand jury, which was subsequently released to the public by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee.

At this point I doubt whether congressional Democrats will attempt to advise Mueller about what he should/shouldn’t do when it comes to interviewing Trump. But getting the president on tape and under oath answering questions about whether he colluded with Russia and/or obstructed justice would not be without precedent. The next move would be up to the liar-in-chief.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.