Donald Trump has staked out the most confrontational stance toward Robert Mueller of anybody in his administration. The president repeatedly rages that the investigation is rigged, demands it end, and threatens to fire the special counsel, his boss (Rod Rosenstein), or his boss’s boss (Jeff Sessions), while Trump’s lawyers try to soothe him, even refusing to carry out his orders.
But on the question of whether to sit for an interview with Mueller, the dynamic is just the opposite. Trump is reportedly eager to grant the special counsel’s request for a face-to-face chat, while literally every lawyer and political adviser he has thinks that would be a horrendous idea.
While Trump’s lawyers “have been prepared to tell Mr. Mueller’s office there will be no interview,” reports the New York Times, “Trump pushed them to continue negotiating.” Axios reports that “insiders” expect Trump to get his way, because “Trump wants to, he thinks he can make his own best case, and no one around him can restrain him,” with one associate helpfully adding, “He just can’t help himself.”
Trump is a nightmare client for a defense lawyer. He faces broad legal jeopardy in the Russia investigation — not only for a wide swath of potential crimes relating to collusion with Russia, but also for obstruction of justice. He is a habitual and uncontrollable liar, as even his closest allies grasp. He lies to his own lawyers, as evidenced by the confession of his counsel Jay Sekulow that he had been given “bad information” about Trump’s alleged noninvolvement in crafting a lie about the Trump Tower meeting.
Trump’s attorneys have tried to steer him away from speaking with Mueller by portraying the interview as a “perjury trap,” but the truth is that any interview with Donald Trump is a perjury trap. Trump would perjure himself in an interview about what he ate for lunch.
Trump’s persistent desire to speak with Mueller is one of the true oddities of the long, unfolding scandal. His impulse for maximum confrontation is being overridden by his apparently stronger impulse to keep blabbing to everybody.
Why his lawyers have failed to steer him away from such a risky course of action can only be guessed at. One possible reason is that Trump’s lawyers are simultaneously trying to talk him out of rashly firing Mueller at the very same time they are trying to talk him out of rashly speaking with him. The former requires soothing Trump with promises that Mueller will end his investigation relatively soon — by last Thanksgiving, Ty Cobb was saying a year ago — and will treat him fairly. Presumably, anything they say that discourages Trump from lashing out at Mueller also encourages him in his belief he can charm or bully him into submission. Another possibility is that Trump’s lawyers don’t have a good way of telling him he shouldn’t speak under oath because he is a pathological liar.
Tony Schwartz, who ghost-wrote Trump’s The Art of the Deal and spent hundreds of hours with its putative author, has suggested that in many cases, Trump literally does not know when he lies. That would certainly explain why Trump cannot seem to resist the allure of a situation where his inevitable lies will have unusually serious consequences.