By Serena Mao
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation has recently taken a step into dangerous waters. In May 2017, Mueller took control of the inquiry on Russia’s potential intervention in the 2016 election, as well as any Russian connections to the Trump campaign. Recently, Mueller’s team has raised the notion of a personal interview with president Donald Trump. As a result, Trump’s legal team has raised objections accordingly.
In a 20-page letter to Mueller’s team, Trump’s lawyers explain their legal strategy, revealing that the president will not comply with requests for an interview. Lawyers Jay Sekulow and John Dowd wrote the letter, explaining that Mueller already possesses all the information he needs. They stress that Trump, in the interest of transparency, has voluntarily offered to give up multiple documents to the campaign. The lawyers argue that because the requested information is already provided by other sources, there is no urgent need to interview the president.
Additionally, the letter continues that the executive office must be protected; in other words, the president must stay above the constant shifting of political arguments to avoid damage to an important office. It states that interviewing Trump would slow his progress and hamper his work in such a significant position, and that “having him testify demeans the office of the president before the world.” Trump’s team even went far enough to threaten the cancellation of the investigation through presidential powers, and raised the possibility of Trump pardoning himself from the inquiry. The lawyers argued that it would not be an obstruction of justice, because it would end up being just him obstructing himself.
However, this seems to cause more problems than it solves. If the president was concerned about the legitimacy of the presidency, it seems logical that he should agree to an interview. Since he insists he is innocent, an interview would further solidify his arguments, giving Mueller less reason to pursue more leads in that direction, and satisfy the general public. On the contrary, the president is trying to distance himself from the request, effectively raising suspicions rather than cementing his authority. It seems questionable that an innocent person would be afraid of confirmation of their innocence. Instead, having to find a motive and reason for the rejection of the interview only increases the questions around the situation.
No one is above the law, including the president. If it were true that obstructing the justice meant obstructing Trump himself, the executive branch could theoretically do anything it wants. To solidify Trump’s reputation and to give the impression that he is innocent, he should agree to be interviewed. To threaten to pardon himself or even cancel the investigation will only raise questions on why he needs to do so.