BLOG

Forgive us if you've heard this one before.

For at least the third time in the past month, a respected national media organization has published a story claiming that President Trump's legal team is leaning toward advising their client to sit for an interview - albeit with certain restrictions - with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Today's report, published by Politico, bore certain similarities to a story published by the Wall Street Journal last week. Last month, the New York Times reported that Trump's lawyers were pushing Mueller to accept written answers - a solution reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's handling of the Iran-Contra scandal.

Trump

One of Politico's sources said the negotiations were "moving fast", and that an interview could be arranged soon. Of course, we've heard that one before.

"I don’t think it’s months and months out. I don’t think it’s in a week," said the person familiar with the negotiations. "But I think it’s moving toward closure."

Given Trump's litigious reputation, one might expect the president to be comfortable during interviews and depositions of this nature. However, his legal team is worried that what Politico characterizes as the president's "improvisational nature" could lead to Trump accidentally uttering a falsehood, potentially drawing a perjury charge from Mueller.

Trump is hardly a stranger to legal proceedings: In one 2012 deposition, according to the Atlantic, Trump said he had participated in more than 100 depositions.

But that doesn’t mean Trump is always well-prepared to field complex legal questions under oath. During a 2016 deposition tied to his lawsuit against a chef who backed out of a deal to open a restaurant at Trump’s Washington D.C. hotel, Trump was asked what he did to prepare for the hearing.

"I would say virtually nothing," he replied. "I spoke with my counsel for a short period of time. I just arrived here, and we proceeded to the deposition."

Trump added that he didn’t study any documents beforehand.

Before any interview, Trump and his lawyers must complete their sensitive negotiations with Mueller over its terms. Among other things, Trump’s lawyers have argued that the burden is on Mueller to show his investigation can’t be completed without an interview with the president. They have also studied the feasibility of answering questions in writing, as President Ronald Reagan did during the Iran-Contra scandal. And they have made clear their resistance to Mueller questioning Trump more than once.

To mitigate these risks, Trump's lawyers are seeking clear boundaries for the topics discussed, and the NYT has even reported that Trump's lawyers were seeking assurances that, should Trump agree to a sit-down, Mueller would see to it that the probe concludes before a given date. Trump's legal team should already have a clear picture of what Mueller intends to ask: Thanks to his documents requests, Mueller is interested in a broad range of topics from Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey to how he responded to the theft and leaks of Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential campaign.

"It’s a tug of war both internally and probably with Mueller," said a senior Republican who recently met with the president. "The end goal for the White House is to get as narrow a discussion as can be possibly negotiated including maybe just answering written questions like Reagan."

Then again, we've also heard reports to the contrary: The NYT's Maggie Haberman published a report earlier this month about Trump's growing frustration with his legal team - drawing a tweeted rebuke from the president.

Some legal experts objected to the idea that Mueller might agree to a predetermined end-date for the probe.

Solomon Wisenberg, a former deputy on Kenneth Starr's independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton, said that idea would be a non-starter for Mueller.

"That’s bullshit," he said. "You accommodate the president but you don’t change the rules for him in a substantive way."

Notably, one anonymous Trump associate who spoke with Politico confirmed an idea that we first highlighted following the initial reports about the behind-the-scenes bargaining: That is, the notion that Trump's legal team is using these media reports as a ploy to convince Trump that they at least tried to strike a deal with Mueller. As one strategist points out, Trump's legal team has crafted a "win-win" scenario for itself.

"It's a strategy by the lawyers," the defense attorney said. "Either Mueller will agree to the terms in some fashion, and at least they get something out of it, or he won't and then they can convince the president not to sit for the interview."

...Sounds like a pretty good deal to us.

The House Intelligence Committee announced last week that it would be ending its collusion probe - to the horror of the committee's Democrats, who have pledged to issue a dissenting report.