Yesterday, as the press corps visited the White House to hear briefings on immigration from senior officials, Donald Trump unexpectedly showed up to answer a few questions. Just before he left, he made one of the most egregious off-the-cuff remarks of his presidency thus far:
Reporter: Are you going to talk to Mueller?
Trump: I’m looking forward to it, actually – there’s been no collusion whatsoever. There’s no obstruction whatsoever, and I’m looking forward…I do worry when I look at all of the things that you people don’t report about with what’s happening…[referring to the deleted texts between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page]…but I would love to do that, and I would love to do it as soon as possible…
Second Reporter: Do you have a date set, Mr. President?
Trump: Here’s the story…I don’t know, I guess they’re talking about two or three weeks, but I would love to do it. Again, I have to say, subject to my lawyers and all of that, but I would love to do it.
Trump’s lawyers, who have been working for weeks to figure out the proper time for their client to talk to the special counsel, are scrambling to clarify his remarks, with Ty Cobb saying the President was “speaking hurriedly” before leaving for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he’s scheduled to speak tomorrow. While it’s ludicrous to assume that Trump had “planned” in advance to make this big statement, it’s no surprise that he did so, given that chaos in the White House always increases whenever the Russia investigation is about to take a dramatic turn.
We know now that Mueller plans to question the President over the firings of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey, and they have asked witnesses whether or not he plans to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Yesterday, NBC News reporter Carol Lee revealed that the special counsel has already interviewed several major figures in the intelligence community, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. There are also rumors that he might flip former Trump campaign aide and Paul Manafort colleague Rick Gates, whose team has met at Mueller’s office twice over the last week. Intelligence experts, such as Malcolm Nance, say that taken together, these developments mean the investigation is circling ever closer to the man in the Oval Office himself.
Given Trump’s deeply held belief that he is the world’s greatest dealmaker, he probably thinks he can wipe the floor with Mueller in an interview. If he does, then he’s underestimating the special counsel, who has reportedly caught his interviewees off-guard thanks to his and his team’s incredibly detailed timeline of the scandal. Trump, who frequently claims he “can’t remember” important details, such as asking acting FBI director Andrew McCabe who he voted for, would probably look like a deer in the headlights if subjected to Mueller’s questioning, which makes this next part of his answer so egregious:
Reporter: Would you do it under oath, Mr. President?
Trump: You mean like Hillary did?…did Hillary do it under oath?…I think you have an idea, don’t you have an idea? Wait a minute, wait, wait, wait, do you not have an idea? Do you really not have an idea? I’ll give you an idea: she didn’t do it under oath. But I would do it under oath! I would do it – and you know she didn’t do it under oath! If you didn’t know about Hillary, then you’re not much of a reporter.
This goes back to a debunked Republican talking point which states Hillary Clinton “lied under oath” to the FBI when she was investigated about her emails in July 2016. Trump brought this up before, on December 4th of last year, when defending Flynn after he pled guilty to lying to the FBI: “Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI and nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it’s a shame.”
The problem with these statements is that the FBI does not conduct interviews under oath. You can be charged with perjury for lying to them, as Flynn was, but as James Comey himself said after the email investigation, it doesn’t matter whether or not you are under oath when you talk to them. Trump, who consumes right wing media like it’s McDonald’s, believes he’s one-upping the former Secretary of State, as indicated by his last remarks before leaving the room: “I was a much better candidate than her…I was one of the greatest candidates.”
Nothing matters more to Trump than the fact that he won the election, and any attempt by reporters, politicians, or investigators to suggest that he and his campaign engaged in illegal activity in order to do so threatens him. Anything that gets in the way of the biggest “win” of his life must be dismissed as “fake news” or brought back to Hillary Clinton, whom the Republicans cannot stop smearing in the press – further proof that, as I said months ago, the election still isn’t over. Trump’s narcissism renders him a permanent victim, unable to accept criticism and stuck in a permanent self-defense mode that he will never escape from. If he does go up against Robert Mueller and it doesn’t go well for him, we can expect all of these traits to become much, much worse.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.