In a telling and extremely important Russia scandal development, Donald Trump's criminal lawyers have decided that he should refuse to talk to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller under any circumstances. Let's be very clear about why they have reached that conclusion since it is established law that a president cannot plead the 5th Amendment. It is because they know Trump is guilty of conspiring with a foreign power -- America's arch enemy -- and obstruction of justice.
Trump, who has vacillated for months on whether to talk to Mueller, let alone answer written questions, is likely to take the advice of his lawyers, who according to a New York Times story published on Monday night, are rightfully concerned that the president, who as a pathological liar has a long history of making false statements and contradicting himself, would be shark bait for Mueller.
The decision that the president in effect plead a de facto 5th Amendment sets up a legal donnybrook that, in the end, his lawyers will lose.
Presidents Nixon (Watergate) and Clinton (Whitewater) tried to duck cooperating in criminal investigations, but the courts were clear in those cases and others through the years: A sitting president has certain privileges, but no blanket right to not comply with a criminal investigation, and the Supreme Court will uphold Mueller because its fealty to the Constitution will outweigh the inclination of a majority of its justices to side with a fellow conservative.
The decision of Trump's lawyers comes at a crucial time in the sordid history of Russia's successful efforts to cyber sabotage Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election with the help of the Trump campaign and the knowledge and approval of the candidate himself. The president is increasingly boxed in and his claims that there was no interference and he is being persecuted as a part of a vast liberal conspiracy are ludicrous to anyone not dwelling in the right-wing echo chamber.
Sycophantic Republican support in Congress -- Trump's firewall against impeachment -- is showing cracks, the grounds for removing him from office are piling up by the week, and the effects of his craziness and bad behavior are casting an ever longer shadow on midterm elections and his re-election campaign, should he be so foolish enough to contemplate running for another term.
And so all Trump can do, in his lawyers' $500-an-hour view, is not fight, but turn and run from Mueller's perjury chainsaw. This is something he has done repeatedly in a long career of lying, corruption and sleaze -- and reliably being a coward when the going gets tough.
Trump has repeatedly flip-flopped on whether to have a sitdown with Mueller.
Last June, he said he was "100 percent" willing to do so, even under oath. Early in January, he equivocated but still said he would meet with Mueller, while at a press conference later in the month he dodged the question.
According to The Times, the decision of Trump's lawyers is based on presumptions which further amplify the Alice in Wonderland quality of where we find ourselves in the 13th month of the Trump presidency:* He actually is innocent, but if he consents to a voluntary request from Mueller for an interview, he will be charged with lying.
* He has a right to refuses to a voluntary request, and the special prosecutor lacks the nerve to subpoena him.
Both arguments reek of desperation.
The president is not innocent. Despite his bravado, he cannot outsmart Mueller. And nothing in Mueller's history as a dogged investigator and prosecutor suggests he will back off from a showdown with the White House. What he might do is decide to not indict Trump -- and whether a sitting president can be indicted is not settled law -- then refer the case to Congress with a recommendation that Trump be impeached. The reality that Congress is not about to move on impeachment is beside the point.
Two major cases argue against the decision of Trump's lawyers.
In 1974, Richard Nixon refused to turn over to Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox tapes of incriminating Oval Office conversations with aides. The matter eventually went before the Supreme Court, which ruled that the president, like every American, was not above the law and had to comply with Cox's request. Nixon subsequently was impeached and resigned.
In 1998, after initially refusing to cooperate with Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and face with being charged with contempt, Bill Clinton testified to a grand jury from the White House on closed-circuit television on allegations stemming from the Whitewater real estate venture in Arkansas. He survived the ordeal, weathered the Monica Lewinsky impeachment circus and served two full terms.
And in 1987, Ronald Reagan answered written questions on the Iran-Contra Scandal following a deal his lawyers struck with Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh. Trump theoretically has the same option, but only if Mueller agrees.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.