Politics & Policy

Trump's Advisers Should Tell Him to Talk to Mueller

The view that he should steer clear of the special counsel is based on three faulty premises.

There’s a way to get this over with.

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images North America

President Donald Trump should sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller and answer Mueller’s questions to the best of his ability.

That’s not the advice Trump is getting from all quarters. Some Republicans are saying in public that the president should not cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, and doubtless he has political aides and lawyers speaking similarly. (Reporters following this story have speculated that Trump’s legal advisers leaked a list of questions Mueller may want to ask him as a way of discouraging his participation.)

The advice that Trump should steer clear of Mueller is generally based on three premises, none of which justifies it.

The first premise is that Mueller is out to get Trump by fair means or foul. Anyone facing a special prosecutor should entertain that fear. Normal prosecutors operate under constraints — such as a large universe of unrelated cases they need to handle — that reduce the likelihood they will act as zealots in any one investigation. And Mueller has made some moves that deserve scrutiny. Was a pre-dawn raid of Paul Manafort’s house really necessary?

But nothing Mueller has done has shown him to have an ax to grind against Trump. Exhibit A for those who say he is biased is that he has hired partisan Democrats — as though ambitious Republican lawyers were likely to sign up for a high-profile investigation of a Republican president.

Exhibit B is the raid on Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen over a matter unrelated to Russian interference in the 2016 election. But Mueller seems to have handled that issue exactly as he should have done. When he learned about evidence of criminal behavior not directly related to his investigation, he neither ignored it nor pursued it, instead referring it to others in law enforcement.

The second premise is that Trump should think the same way as anyone else caught up in an investigation, whether or not he is formally a “target” of it. Many lawyers would counsel their clients not to offer any more information to prosecutors than they absolutely must.

That approach may make sense for the ordinary citizen. Trump is, however, the president of the United States, and as such ought to take account of the national interest in a) getting to the bottom of the Russian-interference question; b) clearing up suspicions about the campaign that won him the presidency; and c) allowing the administration and the political system to move on.

A third premise is that Trump is an inveterate liar and fabulist and will therefore get himself into enormous legal and political trouble if he sits down with Mueller. The president should reject that advice because it is demeaning to him. And if someone with Trump’s ear believes it, he shouldn’t be telling Trump to stay away from the special prosecutor. He should be telling Trump to resign.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net

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