“I’m not sure.” “I don’t know.” “I can’t remember.” In a mock interview with President Trump to prepare him for a possible sit-down with the special counsel’s office, Trump’s lawyer reportedly found that there was a lot Trump couldn’t remember about key events relevant to the Russia investigation.
In a new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, by Bob Woodward, obtained by The Atlantic ahead of its release next week, Woodward offers the first detailed look at the way the president might handle an interview with the experienced prosecutors on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. “If the questions seem harmless, don’t treat them that way,” Trump’s then-lawyer, John Dowd, advised the president during the mock interview in January, according to Woodward’s account. “And I want you thoroughly focused on listening to the words.”
The first question Dowd threw at Trump was about former National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s conversations with the former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn was forced to resign in February 2017 when reports surfaced that he had discussed the issue of sanctions with Kislyak, despite repeated denials—including to Vice President Mike Pence—that the topic had ever come up. Not only were the sanctions discussed in every phone call, Woodward writes, but transcripts obtained by the White House in February, as they were weighing whether to fire Flynn, showed that it was Flynn, and not Kislyak, who first brought up the sanctions that President Obama had issued in December in response to Russia’s election interference. Then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House Counsel Don McGahn in January that Flynn had misled Pence and the FBI about the calls. Still, the White House waited 17 days to fire Flynn, and the day after he was ousted, Trump met with then-FBI Director James Comey and asked if he would consider letting Flynn “go.” That 17-day gap and Trump’s subsequent request to Comey have come under scrutiny by Mueller.