Politico reports Wednesday that some outside Trump advisers are suggesting he try to strike a deal with Mueller to offer testimony, but in a setting more advantageous to him than a grand jury or conference room:
[Roger] Stone and at least two other people who regularly speak to Trump—Newsmax publisher Chris Ruddy and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich—are instead advising that the president offer Mueller a compromise of responding to questions in writing only. That’s the same deal President Ronald Reagan struck during the Iran-Contra investigation in 1987, multiple Trump allies noted in interviews.
Politico says the White House is also considering this strategy. (It’s fascinating that Stone, a likely subject of Mueller’s interest for his conversations with a Russian hacker known as “Guccifer 2.0,” is also advising the president on strategy.)
Mueller may be likely to grant Trump leeway he wouldn’t grant to other witnesses. (Many of his tactics have been seen as unusually hardnosed, including a raid on an apartment belonging to former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.)
“You wish to be accommodating generally and sensitive, of course, to the presidency. There is no job like this,” John Q. Barrett, a law professor at St. John’s and former associate counsel on the Iran-Contra investigation, told me in January. “You don’t want to waste his time, you don’t want to distract him. Presuming to ask the president for anything is a big step, but the need for law enforcement does require it.”
Bill Clinton, for example, was deposed in January 1998 at his lawyer’s offices in D.C., and was later allowed to testify to a grand jury from the White House via closed-circuit TV, rather than attend in person.
While Mueller has kept his cards close to his vest, there are reasons to doubt he might agree to a Reagan-like deal. Although Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh allowed Reagan to answer questions in writing, that was in large part because aides had testified that the president was mostly unaware of illegal activity, and Walsh “concluded that President Reagan’s conduct fell well short of criminality which could be successfully prosecuted,” according to his final report.
“The focus of the investigation was not criminal conduct by President Reagan,” Barrett said. In this case, however, Trump is very much a focus—from his campaign’s relationships with Russia to his own financial dealings to, perhaps most prominently, whether he obstructed justice.
“The president’s conduct is a subject of this investigation,” Barrett said. “My guess is Mueller would not be satisfied with written interrogatory.”
Even written questions are a major event for a president; Reagan took weeks to prepare answers for Walsh. But the recent history of differences between Trump and his attorneys might also give Mueller reason to question whether testimony prepared by Trump’s team would be accurate. In December, Trump tweeted that he had fired National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn because Flynn lied to the FBI—contradicting Trump’s previously stated rationale, and offering the first indication that Trump knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when he fired him, which might prove Trump had obstructed justice in asking Comey to go easy on Flynn. (Flynn has since pleaded guilty and is cooperating with Mueller.) Trump attorney John Dowd then claimed he, not the president, had written the tweet.