In what can only be described as a deranged interview with Reuters, president Donald Trump stated that any sit-down interview with Mueller would be a “perjury trap,” and declared of the investigation into his potential obstruction of justice that "I could run it if I want". Here was Trump claiming the interview could be a perjury trap:
In an interview with Reuters, Trump echoed the concerns of his top lawyer in the probe, Rudy Giuliani, who has warned that any sit-down with Mueller could be a “perjury trap.”
The president expressed fears that investigators could compare his statements with that of others who have testified in the probe, such as former FBI Director James Comey, and that any discrepancies could be used against him.
“So if I say something and he (Comey) says something, and it’s my word against his, and he’s best friends with Mueller, so Mueller might say: ‘Well, I believe Comey,’ and even if I’m telling the truth, that makes me a liar. That’s no good.”
And here's how he described his powers to intervene and "run" the probe, and why the investigation is playing "into the Russians' hands":
Trump asserted that he retained the power to intervene in the probe, but that he had chosen not to do so for the moment.
His administration, Trump said, was “a smooth-running machine, except in that world. And I’ve decided to stay out. Now I don’t have to stay out.
“I can go in, and I could do whatever — I could run it if I want. But I decided to stay out,” he said. “I’m totally allowed to be involved if I wanted to be. So far, I haven’t chosen to be involved. I’ll stay out.”.....
In the interview, Trump blamed the investigation for hampering his efforts to strengthen the country’s relationship with Russia and for sowing discord among the American public.
He again neglected to blame Russia for interfering in the 2016 election, a conclusion reached by the U.S. intelligence community.
The probe, he said, “played right into the Russians - if it was Russia - they played right into the Russians’ hands.”
There's so much to unpack here it is hard to know where to begin. Forget the ridiculous "smooth running machine" comment for a moment, and let's start with the first claim; that a sit down interview with Mueller would be a perjury trap. Mueller is a highly respected federal investigator with a decades long, spotless track record of impartiality. He is gathering evidence for his investigation, not trying to trap anyone into committing perjury. As former federal prosecutor Randall Eliason wrote in The Washington Post:
“[P]erjury trap” is a specific legal defense, related to entrapment. A claim of a perjury trap is really a claim of prosecutorial misconduct. It refers to an abuse of the legal process, whereby a prosecutor subpoenas a witness to testify not for a legitimate investigative purpose but to try to catch him in an inconsistency or falsehood — even a relatively minor one — that can then trigger a perjury charge.
No objective observer could claim Mueller does not have a legitimate investigative reason to interview Trump. Trump was, of course, the head of his campaign and is therefore a key witness on all issues related to possible Russian interference and collaboration. And if Mueller is probing possible obstruction of justice by the president himself, it is critical to try to get the president’s side of the story. It’s entirely appropriate and expected for Mueller to seek the president’s testimony.
Trump and Giuliani's comments also indicate they don't understand how perjury works from a legal point of view -- which is not shocking given Giuliani's atrocious performance as Trump's lawyer. Perjury is defined as "The offense of willfully telling an untruth in a court after having taken an oath or affirmation." The word "willfully" is paramount here, as giving a different account of events than another witness does not necessarily constitute willful lying, and no competent prosecutor would attempt to hang their case on it. A willful lie is harder to prove and would need more evidence than conflicting narratives. This does not mean Trump is not guilty of perjury and cannot be found guilty of perjury (he almost certainly is given the stunning numbers of willful lies he has told), but his understanding of it is simply wrong. Trump could of course just stop lying, making any potential (or imaginary) trap redundant.
Secondly, the notion that that he could "run" the probe into his potential criminality "if I want" is equally as absurd. While Trump does have the power to remove Mueller (although that would almost certainly trigger the end of his presidency), he obviously can't run the investigation in any meaningful way, given the investigation is about him. This may be how Trump believes the American legal system works, but it isn't how anyone else believes it does and he is subject to it just like the rest of us.
Thirdly, his unwillingness to blame Russia for hacking the 2016 election and the the idea that the probe into it "played right into the Russians’ hands,” is tantamount to treason. He is refusing to accept what all US intelligence agencies are telling him (despite acknowledging on occasion that they are correct), contradicting himself, and lying.
When Trump says: "if it was Russia - they played right into the Russians’ hands,” you have to do some extraordinary mental gymnastics to try and make sense of it. If it was Russia (which we all know that it was), then having a probe into their activities and the people they collaborated with would be the first thing any competent country would do. Given Mueller has already secured 35 indictments, and five guilty pleas, including four former Trump advisers, it is abundantly clear that this isn't a "rigged With Hunt" as the president routinely claims. If the president was innocent, he would welcome a probe into any potential wrong doing, particularly if it was run by a down-the-line Republican like Robert Mueller. By "playing into the Russians' hands", what exactly does Trump mean? That uncovering their wrong doing and trying to prevent them from interfering with US democracy again is bad?
Trump's ability to incriminate himself apparently knows no bounds -- the more he talk, the more guilty he looks -- which is why his legal team are so keen for him not to sit down with Robert Mueller. The reality is that if Trump does get caught in a perjury trap, it will be one set up expertly by himself.