Trump's legal team has a baffling new argument for why he shouldn't speak with Mueller

  • President Donald Trump's legal team says an in-person interview between the president and special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation would set a bad precedent for future presidents, and would be a waste of time.
  • Trump's team has been stonewalling Mueller for months, and it looks like the standoff will continue.
  • Experts say that while Trump should be worried about a Mueller interview, his legal team arguing that it would set a bad precedent is a dramatic overstatement.


After months of finding ways to skirt around the issue, President Donald Trump's legal team has come up with yet another strategy for avoiding an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation.

While maintaining that all options for a Trump-Mueller interview remain on the table, one of Trump's lawyers has claimed that a face-to-face interview would set a bad precedent for future investigations.

"It would be a travesty to waste [Trump's] time and to set a precedent which would cripple a future president," the unnamed lawyer told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

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People reportedly interviewed in Robert Mueller's Russia probe
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People reportedly interviewed in Robert Mueller's Russia probe

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions 

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Former FBI Director James Comey

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Trump advisor Stephen Miller

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

President Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner 

(bBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Don McGahn, general counsel for the Trump transition team

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who compiled the reported Trump dossier 

(Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)

Sam Clovis, a former member of the Trump campaign

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

CIA Director Mike Pompeo
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Mueller is investigating potential cooperation between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, including whether the president obstructed justice by, among other things, firing former FBI Director James Comey in May.

The lawyer also claimed that a face-to-face interview would be unnecessary given the volume of information Mueller's team already has access to.

The lawyer said Mueller "has all of the notes and memos of the thoughts and actions of this president on all subjects he requested in real time without reservation or qualification, including testimony from his most intimate staff and eight lawyers from the White House Counsel’s Office."

"Any question for the president is answered in these materials and testimony," the lawyer continued.

Instead of a full in-person interview, Trump's team has also floated written responses to interviewers' questions, along with partial face-to-face responses.

The bigger picture

Yale Law School professor Cristina Rodríguez, who specializes in administrative and constitutional law, said the unnamed lawyer's statement about Trump's testimony was not entirely accurate.

"That seems like a dramatic overstatement to me," she told Business Insider. "Future presidents could ignore what President Donald Trump would do. Sitting down might create a convention where presidents would cooperate with an investigation, but at this point it's very speculative."

But Rodríguez did acknowledge that sitting down with Mueller would present an awkward situation for Trump.

"The special counsel is a subordinate to the president," she said. "This is just an ordinary special counsel under the office of the Justice Department's regulations, so it's an ordinary prosecutor. What's awkward about it is that it would be an adversarial meeting to some degree. And Mueller would probably ask questions that the president would perceive as threatening, so this does present concerns for the chief executive."

Rodríguez said that while independent counsels did interview former President Bill Clinton in the Whitewater investigation, these investigators were protected from removal by Congress. Mueller, though, has no such protections.

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Former FBI Director Robert Mueller
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Former FBI Director Robert Mueller
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 28: Former FBI director Robert Mueller attends the ceremonial swearing-in of FBI Director James Comey at the FBI Headquarters October 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey was officially sworn in as director of FBI on September 4 to succeed Mueller who had served as director for 12 years. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama applauds outgoing Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) director Robert Mueller (L) in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on June 21, 2013 as he nominates Jim Comey to be the next FBI director. Comey, a deputy attorney general under George W. Bush, would replace Mueller, who is stepping down from the agency he has led since the week before the September 11, 2001 attacks. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller applauds key staff members during a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW HEADSHOT)
391489 03: U.S. President George W. Bush speaks during a conference as he stands with Justice Department veteran Robert Mueller, left, who he has nominated to head the FBI, and Attorney General John Ashcroft July 5, 2001 the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller stands for the national anthem during a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) reacts to a standing ovation from the audience, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (C) and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (R) during Mueller's farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller gestures during his remarks at a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
FILE PHOTO -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (R) and FBI Director Robert Mueller speak about possible terrorist threats against the United States, in Washington, May 26, 2004. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller reacts to applause from the audience during his farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and FBI Director Robert Mueller make their way to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (C) delivers remarks at a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Also onstage with Mueller are Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (FROM L), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director George Tenet and TSA Administrator John Pistole. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15: (L-R) Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton attend the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. Holder and other members of the Obama administration are being criticized over reports of the Internal Revenue Services' scrutiny of conservative organization's tax exemption requests and the subpoena of two months worth of Associated Press journalists' phone records. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington June 13, 2013. Mueller said on Thursday that the U.S. government is doing everything it can to hold confessed leaker Edward Snowden accountable for splashing surveillance secrets across the pages of newspapers worldwide. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (L) welcomes FBI Director Robert Mueller during their meeting in Kiev June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Efrem Lukatsky/Pool (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS)
FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) arrives for the Obama presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington. President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States. Woman at right is unidentified. REUTERS/Win McNamee-POOL (UNITED STATES)
WASHINGTON, : FBI Director Robert Mueller answers questions before Congress 17 October 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Mueller was testifying before the House and Senate Select Intelligence committees' final open hearing investigating events leading up to the September 11, 2001. AFP Photos/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
399994 02: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller visits the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller (L) stand during the National Anthem alongside Attorney General Eric Holder (R) and Deputy Attorney General James Cole (C) during a farewell ceremony in Mueller's honor at the Department of Justice on August 1, 2013. Mueller is retiring from the FBI after 12-years as Director. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
399994 01: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller greets American forces on the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: FBI Director Robert Mueller, center, talks with Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, talk before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 06: OVERSIGHT HEARING ON COUNTERTERRORISM--Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, before the hearing. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
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Robert Ray, one of the independent counsels in the Clinton investigation in the 1990s, said Trump's waffling on the issue is unnecessary.

"The sooner they make the president available to submit to an interview, the faster that Bob Mueller can get to the finish line and be over and done," Ray told The Journal.

Trump's standoff with Mueller's team has been ongoing for months now, and negotiations could potentially last up to six months, and in an extreme scenario, lead to a Supreme Court case just like the Watergate investigation did in 1974 when investigators tried to get former President Richard Nixon to unseal his now-infamous White House tapes.

But Trump's team does have reason to be worried about a face-to-face interview — judging from past depositions he has been involved in over the years, Trump is a gregarious witness who doesn't shy away from boasting, fiercely defending his record, and stretching the truth to make himself look good, according to the Associated Press. In an interview with Mueller's team, such qualities could lead Trump to inadvertently open the door for perjury.

Washington defense lawyer Justin Dillon told the AP that Mueller would scrutinize Trump's words as closely as possible. 

"They're not going to let the B-team question Donald Trump," Dillon said of Mueller's attorneys.

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