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Trump’s Legal Team Needs to Get a Grip, ‘Written Response’ Ain’t Going to Cut It


It’s being widely reported this week that President Trump’s legal team has begun prepping for the inevitable Trump/Mueller meeting in earnest. NBC reported yesterday that a source “familiar with a late December meeting between Trump’s legal team and representatives from the special counsel’s office” said that “a possible interview” could be happening within the next few weeks, and that three insiders said Trump may be angling for “written responses to questions in lieu of a formal sit-down.”

As a lawyer, I really don’t envy anyone on Trump’s legal team; they’re forced, on a daily basis, to make inane legal arguments on behalf of a client who is uncontrollable and likely ungrateful for their work. In the interest of bringing them back to reality, I offer the following.

  1. Nice try, guys, but a written response isn’t going to cut it.

I’m trying not to laugh too hard picturing the scene in which a member of Robert Mueller’s team reports to him, saying, “yeah, so Trump’s people are asking if they can just give us his answers in writing instead of doing the whole interview thing.” I realize that Trump isn’t exactly enamored with the Russia investigation, or with Mueller’s authority generally, but I think it’s safe to say that this is one of those times when an email just isn’t going to work. It’s going to be face-to-face or nothing.

I can’t blame Trump’s people for at least asking here, though. A live meeting between Mueller, the careful, professional, prosecutor, and Trump, the bombastic, unhinged, bully, will be unpredictable, to say the least. As a client, Trump is the ultimate wild card; his legal team is undoubtedly sorting through permutations of his potentially bizarre behavior, and attempting to plan for every absurdity. Trump might try his patented tug-and-pull move when he greets Mueller, or the creepy-stalker thing from the presidential debate; moving this meeting onto paper would save the legal team a lot of stress. It won’t happen, but it was a good ask.

  1. Really? You’re “collaborating”?

According to NBC, the source described the talks between Trump’s legal team and the Mueller team as taking a “collaborative approach.” Can we just regroup for a minute? This is a criminal prosecution, not a jam session. The entire concept of an investigation – in fact, the entire concept of criminal law – is grounded in its being adversarial. It doesn’t matter if the subject is the President of the United States or a run-of-the-mill drug dealer, when a prosecutor investigates, it’s one-sided, it’s imbalanced, and as far from “collaborative” as it could get. That imbalance is (at least, theoretically) equalized by our legal system generally, and the right to counsel specifically; Trump should (and will) be entitled to all the rights that any other investigatory subject would. But characterizing this process as some kind of shared effort is beyond absurd.

  1. Fighting the interview altogether isn’t going to look good on Trump.

President Trump has made it pretty clear that he bows to no one. It would be highly Trumpy (and utterly predictable) to hear his team argue that he doesn’t have to sit down with Mueller at all. I realize we’re not at the point of subpoenas just yet, but Trump should abandon this entire line of reasoning sooner, rather than later. If there’s anything that Trump can’t resist, it’s a “who has a bigger button” contest, and weaseling out of an interview with Mueller would necessarily bring up Clinton/Trump comparisons. Before Robert Mueller reprised the role of Ken Starr, when the part of POTUS was played by Bill Clinton, this same kind of meeting took place, and Clinton didn’t complain about it.  Trump is going to lose this battle anyway, so there’s not much to be gained by making the argument sure to play badly in public.

So, dear learned counsel, let’s pump the brakes here on all this round-about-ness. Written responses will satisfy no one. Investigations aren’t supposed to be easy. The meeting between Trump and Mueller is likely to be an actual, well, you know, meeting. Prepare for that. And therefore, prepare for the worst.

Far be it from the ethical obligations of an attorney to suggest or do as much–but maybe a Xanax shoved inside a Royale with Cheese is your best bet. Melania’s probably done it a million times before.

Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos.

Ornamental snark and Pulp Fiction references graciously provided for this piece by Colin Kalmbacher.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos