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November 15, 2018

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OPINION:

Of course Trump should talk to Mueller

Of course President Donald Trump should agree to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller about matters related to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

First things first: Americans need assurance that our democracy is functioning properly and not subverted. Mueller’s investigation is designed to provide that assurance. All Americans should want his investigation to succeed. Mueller already has secured five guilty pleas and obtained 17 criminal indictments. We should all hope that a thorough investigation reveals no further wrongdoing. But a thorough investigation must take place, with the chips falling where they may.

A foreign power intervened in our elections. There were a suspiciously high number of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials or their agents. And Trump himself said he fired former FBI director James Comey over the “Russia thing.” So there’s plenty of good reasons Mueller would want to talk to Trump.

For Americans to have assurance that our democracy is not being subverted and that justice is not being obstructed, Mueller needs to talk to Trump. A president should want above all to maintain the faith of the American people in the integrity of our constitutional democracy. Trump should in fact insist on a meeting with Mueller, at the earliest possible opportunity, and without conditions.

Then there is the matter of actually sorting out what, if anything, happened with Russian collusion with the upper echelons of the Trump campaign and in what ways Trump may have obstructed justice. The leaked questions that Mueller hopes to pose to Trump, if valid, are straightforward inquiries to understand what happened. Example: “What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort (the former Trump campaign chair, now under indictment), to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?” And: “Regarding the decision to fire Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?”

If we accept the principle that no one — not even the president — is above the law, then Mueller and the rest of the country need answers to these questions.

The objections to Trump agreeing to a Mueller interview don’t hold up to the slightest scrutiny:

n Is the president too busy to meet with Mueller? Given the amount of time we know he spends watching TV, tweeting and playing golf, this claim is laughable. But even more important is the nature of the Mueller investigation: Mueller’s areas of focus are not peripheral matters, but central to the well-being of our republic. Any president can find time for something of this import.

n Is Mueller unfairly biased against Trump? Mueller is a Republican, previously appointed to run the FBI by both Republican and Democratic presidents. He commands respect from everyone in both major parties — at least those operating in good faith.

n Is the interview a set-up to trick Trump into answering “gotcha” questions? Leaving aside Trump’s claims about his intellect, which would suggest it’s impossible for him to be tricked, there’s simply no reason to believe Mueller is trying to trick Trump or has gotcha questions waiting. If the leaked questions are legitimate, Mueller’s questions are open-ended inquiries asking Trump to explain (a) what he knows about important events related to campaign contacts with Russia, and (b) how to interpret various actions Trump took that might have been part of an effort to obstruct justice.

As president of the United States, Trump should be eager to expose the ways that Russia intervened in the 2016 election and to prevent a recurrence. He should be eager, too, to explain his actions after the election, and why they do not constitute obstruction of justice.

His willingness to answer Mueller’s questions shouldn’t be conditioned on extraneous issues such as a demand for an investigation into the fictitious “spying” of his campaign. (What is obvious is that FBI action during the election massively benefited Trump. Comey harshly criticized Hillary Clinton and immediately before the election announced the reopening of the investigation into the handling of her emails. By contrast, the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s involvement with Russia was never made public.)

As citizens of the United States, we should be eager for Trump to meet with Mueller, so we can ultimately learn the truth about what went on between Russia and the Trump campaign, if anything; so we can gain clarity on whether Trump obstructed justice; so we can feel confident in the abiding principle that nobody is above the law; and so we can maintain confidence in the rule of law and legitimacy of our democracy.

Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.