Washington: As Donald Trump’s lawyers continue to negotiate terms of an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, the president’s allies are increasingly trying to warn him against it, using one of the few methods they have—television.
Trump’s longtime friends and advisers have grown increasingly concerned that a face-to-face interview with Mueller could derail his presidency and are hoping to catch the president’s ear during his hours of channel-surfing, said one such adviser. In recent weeks, Trump’s outside advisers have gone on Fox News, CNN, and ABC’s Good Morning America with almost identical talking points about the risks of a Mueller interview.
The renewed urgency comes after Trump told reporters last month he would “love to" speak to Mueller, a statement his lawyers later tried to soften as they continue discussing the terms for a possible interview. With chief of staff John Kelly trimming back access to Trump, those outside the West Wing have taken to television—and sometimes Twitter—as a main method of communication given the hours Trump spends with a TV on nearby.
The advice from Trump’s friends has been nearly unanimous against a face-to-face interview, with most advocating for some form of written response to questions. While his allies say they believe Trump has done nothing wrong, they question Mueller’s intentions and the voluble Trump’s ability to avoid unintentional misstatements that could be turned into a perjury charge.
Chris Ruddy, a Trump friend who talks to him occasionally at his Palm Beach resort, tweeted on 7 February, “My advice to the President: start with written questions!" On Sunday, Ruddy, founder of the conservative network Newsmax, went on CNN attacking Mueller’s investigation and warning Trump to “stay way" from it.
Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone said he hasn’t spoken to Trump directly about his concerns but has gone on Fox News to convey them. Stone said he believes an interview could be a “setup" and that Trump should submit only written replies to questions.
“I understand this from the president’s point of view: He knows in his heart there is no Russian collusion and he has done nothing wrong," Stone said. “However, Mueller is seeking to box him into some kind of process-related charge, either perjury or obstruction of justice in the matter of the termination of FBI director James Comey or General Michael Flynn."
Other advisers who have gone on television to warn Trump against an interview include former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Fox News host and former district attorney Jeanine Pirro and Fox News host Sean Hannity.
On the day Trump said during an impromptu press conference that he would “love to" talk with Mueller under oath and “I’m looking forward to it," Pirro went on Hannity’s show, which Trump frequently watches, to say that the president “absolutely should not sit down, he should not agree to do it." Hannity agreed that Trump would have a difficult time staying on script.
Weeks of talks
Several hours after Trump made those remarks, Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer, said the president had been rushed when he said he would be willing to talk to Mueller under oath. He said Trump had intended only to emphasize that he remained committed to cooperating fully with the investigation and was willing to meet with Mueller.
Trump’s lawyers have been talking with Mueller and his aides about an interview with the president for weeks. The lawyers met in December with the office of special counsel (OSC) and have been speaking by phone as part of a continuing exchange over logistics and terms of an interview. No final decision has been reached on if and under what circumstance one would take place.
“The active discussions between the OSC and the president’s personal lawyers regarding how and under what terms information will be exchanged are understandably private," Trump’s lawyer John Dowd said in a statement on 5 February.
Mueller is looking into Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign. But his investigation also has focused on whether anyone close to Trump colluded with the Russians and whether Trump obstructed justice when he removed Flynn, his national security adviser, and fired Comey after urging him not to go after Flynn, according to two US officials. Trump has denied any collusion or obstruction. Bloomberg