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It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Protect an Innocent Man

Trump’s legal team is doing all it can to keep the president from lying

President Donald Trump smiles during a meeting with inner city pastors in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Trump

Andrew Harnik/AP

Despite strongly worded tweets from President Trump calling for its termination, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation soldiers on. The president has no one to blame but himself and his lawyers, who are doing all they can to prevent their client from speaking with investigators under oath. On Wednesday afternoon, the New York Times reported that Trump’s lawyers rejected a proposal made by Mueller last week, sending the special counsel a counter offer with a narrower focus for questioning. The Trump camp’s main qualm is Mueller’s desire to interview the president on issues related to possible obstruction of justice charges. “This should be over by September 1st,” Trump’s lead attorney Rudy Giuliani said during a Wednesday radio appearance. “We have now given him an answer. He obviously should take a few days to consider it, but we should get this resolved. If there is going to be an interview, let’s have it.”

The following morning, Axios reported that Trump’s legal team objected to two specific obstruction-related lines of inquiry Mueller wished to pursue. According to Axios, Giuliani mentioned them as if they “were minor details — totally reasonable areas for Mueller to agree to avoid.”

In reality, these “details” are pretty significant. Former FBI Director James Comey has testified that Trump asked him to end his investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who would ultimately plead guilty to lying to the FBI. Trump fired Comey a few months after that conversation, and then admitted on national television that part of the reason he did so was to put an end to “this Russia thing.” It’s not unreasonable for Mueller to seek clarity on either of these issues, which, taken at face value, seem to be pretty obvious instances of the president obstructing justice. This is a very real and not at all “minor” crime. Just ask Bill Clinton, who 20 years ago was impeached for it.

Trump maintains that he is totally innocent and that everything he’s done has been on the level. He even told reporters last June that he was “100 percent” willing to testify under oath about his conversations with Comey. Last week, the Times reported that Trump still wants to testify, believing that he can convince Mueller’s team that their own investigation is a “witch hunt.” His attorneys don’t share his enthusiasm. During an appearance on The Ingraham Angle Wednesday night, Giuliani’s pundit-in-arms Jay Sekulow explained why they won’t simply let the president sit down and exonerate himself. “I can assure you this tonight,” Sekulow said. “This legal team is not walking this president into a perjury trap. Not going to happen.”

In other words, they’re afraid the president is going to lie. Fox News host Dagen McDowell expressed something similar on Monday, taking it a step further by implying that the president should be able to lie to investigators without having to worry about an indictment. “How in the world could he ever cooperate and sit down with Mueller for an interview knowing that if you tell one lie to Bob Mueller, he will move to file charges?” she said on Outnumbered. “He could not tell a lie, that’s always an option here,” replied Democratic strategist and frequent Fox News contributor Jessica Tarlov.

The problem is that not telling a lie isn’t an option for the president, who has proven himself incapable of distinguishing between reality and his self-constructed fantasy world in which his corruption is actually noble and he’s the greatest president in American history except for maybe Honest Abe Lincoln. Giuliani and Sekluow know this, which is why they won’t let Trump sit down with Mueller unless they can control the course of the interview. In rebuffing Mueller’s conditions on these grounds, Trump’s legal team is essentially asking that Mueller be more sensitive to the fact that the president is a pathological liar. Otherwise, Trump — who, remember, has nothing to hide — would simply sit down and answer Mueller’s questions truthfully. The president has “one of the great memories of all time,” so there shouldn’t be any confusion as to all of the non-criminal things uttered in those conversations.

Giuliani and Sekulow’s obstinance is also a signal that they are prepared for a prolonged legal battle should Mueller attempt to subpoena the president, which the special counsel suggested could be an option during discussions with Trump’s legal team in March. Though it happened to Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, there is plenty of gray area as to whether a sitting president would legally have to honor a subpoena. A battle over whether Mueller can force Trump to testify could rise all the way to the Supreme Court. Fortunately for Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, whom he nominated last month to fill the seat left vacant by the now-retired Anthony Kennedy, is a big fan of executive privilege. As the Washington Post points out, Kavanaugh argued in a 2009 article that “we should not burden a sitting president with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecutions.”

This might explain why Trump’s most loyal lackeys in Congress are in such a rush to get Kavanaugh confirmed. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chairman of the supposed-to-be-impartial House Intelligence Committee, said as much during a closed-door fundraiser held last month in Spokane, Washington, arguing that lawmakers should hold off on impeaching Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because it would delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation. “I’ve said publicly Rosenstein deserves to be impeached. I don’t think you’re gonna get any argument from most of our colleagues. The question is the timing of it right before the election,” Nunes said, according to recordings obtained by The Rachel Maddow Show. Nunes added that “the Senate would have to drop everything they’re doing and start to, and start with impeachment on Rosenstein, and then take the risk of not getting Kavanaugh confirmed.”

“If Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones, which is really the danger,” he added, also noting that “if we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.”

The recording makes explicit what the actions of Nunes and other Republican lawmakers have long implied, which is that their loyalty lies with President Trump, not the United States of America. After the recording was released, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) called for Nunes to resign for “perverting” his oath of office. “Under our Constitution, the duty of Congress is not to clear the President,” he tweeted. “The duty of Congress is to be a check and balance on the Executive Branch, and to pursue the facts wherever they may lead.”

Whether from Giuliani and Sekulow or Nunes and the other Republican lawmakers working to undermine Mueller’s investigation, it’s more than a little odd that this amount of legal and political gymnastics are required to protect a man who is totally innocent.

Meanwhile, the president is mad online:

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