It is being reported that in a meeting between Robert Mueller and President Trump’s lawyers in March Mr Mueller warned Trump’s lawyers that the President may be subpoenaed to testify to the investigation into the election meddling in the 2016 US election by Russia. Mr Mueller, of course, is the Special Counsel who has been heading the investigation as to whether Trump’s campaign and administration have been involved in the election meddling by Russia. Despite compelling evidence that election meddling took place, Mr Trump continues to deny that he was aware of the meddling or was involved in any of it.
It seems that Mr Muller would prefer the President to voluntarily testify to his investigation. The President has before said he would be willing to do this, but his desire to do so has been tempered since the raid on his lawyer Michael Cohen. Trump’s lawyers have told Mr Mueller that the President is under no obligation to testify. It is thought that this was when Mr Mueller warned them that he may subpoena him to force him to testify. However, if compelled to testify through a subpoena, the President could challenge the subpoena through the courts and ultimately could invoke the Fifth Amendment which would allow him to refuse to answer so as to avoid self-incrimination.
The President’s lawyer at this meeting was John Dowd – who has since resigned. Mr Dowd told Mueller’s investigators that this wasn’t “some game” and that they were “screwing with the work of the president of the United States.” Many others are warning the President not to testify. It seems obvious that with the President’s apparent inability to tell the truth on anything like a consistent basis it would be extremely dangerous for Trump to testify under oath. Lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who supports the President, was one of these suggesting he shouldn’t testify. He warned that the Special Counsel would “throw him softballs so that he will go on and on with answers. Instead of sharp questions designed to elicit yes or no, they make him feel very comfortable and let him ramble.”
Since the meeting, questions that may be asked by Mr Mueller (above) to Donald Trump during a possible testimony have been leaked to the New York Times. The questions include covering Mr Trump’s reasoning for firing James Comey, the FBI Director, and the President’s election campaign team’s contacts with Russia. It was the firing of James Comey that sparked the appointment of Mr Mueller as a Special Counsel to investigate possible collusion between Trump’s team and Russia. Understandably, the President was outraged at the leak to the New York Times, and took to Twitter to vent his outrage: “So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were “leaked” to the media. No questions on Collusion. Oh, I see…you have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information. Nice!”
Mr Trump continues to deny that any collusion happened, but testifying under oath to a special counsel investigation is very different from taking to Twitter to repeat his denials. With Mr Trump’s habitual habit of lying about just about everything, he must realise that it would only take one lie under oath which can be demonstrated to be a lie to give reason for Impeachment. As others have found out, lying to the investigation in the belief that the investigators don’t have the goods on you can seriously backfire. It seems to me that Mr Mueller isn’t going to issue a subpoena to the President if he doesn’t have evidence already against him to ensure that they could catch him out in a lie. The President’s only options would be to take the Fifth or to be brutally honest – neither would be good for him.
If he takes the Fifth it would offer him protection from implicating himself but would naturally imply he has something to hide and would likely only intensify the investigation into him. If he is brutally honest then he has nothing to fear if, as he says repeatedly, he has not been involved in any collusion. It seems obvious to me that Mr Trump was aware of collusion and was personally involved in it. I believe that he had contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 election campaign, or knew that his team had, and used them to his advantage. If he admits this to the investigation he will be finished. If he lies about this under oath and Mr Mueller can prove it, he is finished. Mr Trump must also contend with the possibility that his lawyer Michael Cohen has or will spill the beans on what he knows about all this. It seems likely that Mr Cohen, who has worked for Mr Trump for many years in business and other matters, will know a great deal of incriminating information about the President.
Michael Cohen may remain silent and hope that the President pardons him if he is charged with offences, or he may turn over and give everything he knows to the Special Counsel in the belief that Trump isn’t going to come to his rescue through a presidential pardon. It would be very dangerous, I feel, for Trump to pardon Michael Cohen. At best it would demonstrate that the President knows that Cohen is a danger to him through his personal knowledge of the President. At present, Michael Cohen’s documents and computers have been seized but it is yet to be determined which are protected by attorney-client privilege. Those that aren’t will be passed to investigators in New York investigating Michael Cohen’s activities. This may or may not bring the President into the fray. We simply don’t know yet, but Mr Trump knows what Cohen knows about him and his response to the raids on Michael Cohen’s office and home demonstrate that he is worried.
As always, the drama continues and we wait to see what happens with Michael Cohen and wait to see Mr Mueller’s next step and how the President responds to the growing dilemma he faces – whether he risks firing Mr Mueller in a bid to scupper the investigation. I argue that doing that, as happened when he fired James Comey, will simply intensify suspicions against the President and will lead to new and even more determined investigations.
Sources & Further Reading:
- Mueller ‘threatened Trump with subpoena’ amid Russia probe – BBC – Wednesday 2 May 2018
- What we learn from Mueller’s ‘Trump questions’ – BBC – Tuesday 1 May 2018 – by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter
- Why Answering Mueller’s Questions Could Be a Minefield for Trump – New York Times – Tuesday 1 May 2018 – by Charlie Savage
- The Questions Mueller Wants to Ask Trump About Obstruction, and What They Mean – New York Times – Monday 30 April 2018 – by Matt Apuzzo and Michael S Schmidt
- Mueller Has Dozens of Inquiries for Trump in Broad Quest on Russia Ties and Obstruction – New York Times – Monday 30 April 2018 – by Michael S Schmidt