By Gene Lyons
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Can’t we please, please put one piece of fake news to bed?
Spare us the interviews with Rudy Giuliani and the endless debates among cable TV lawyers about the terms and conditions of Donald Trump’s testimony to special counsel Robert Mueller.
There’s never going to be any testimony. It’s all a charade. Come what may, Trump will never appear under oath in the Russia investigation. No defense attorney worth his law license would allow it.
Those tales New York Times reporters pass along about how the president’s confident he can talk his way out of anything? He’s stalling, playing for time. If push comes to shove, Trump will plead the Fifth Amendment, political consequences be damned.
He’ll just keep calling the Mueller probe a partisan witch hunt, invoke the privilege against self-incrimination and brazen it out.
Short of provoking a constitutional crisis, it’s his only real play.
How many votes would the president lose that he hasn’t lost already? Courtesy of a recent Facebook exchange, here’s what dedicated Trumpists already believe: “I call the NY Times conspiring with the FBI and DOJ, and the Hillary Clinton campaign to fix the 2016 election and to cripple the president with the Russia collusion nonsense the behavior of the ‘enemies of the people.’”
That’s not quite the QAnon conspiracy, but it’s in the ballpark.
But I doubt it will come to that. Mueller can issue all the subpoenas he wants, if he wants. But what for? He’d actually be doing Trump a favor, helping him to stall with tedious Supreme Court theater. Already, The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent is warning us to “Get ready for this nightmare scenario involving Trump, Mueller and (Supreme Court nominee Brett) Kavanaugh.”
Far better for Mueller to let the question of the president’s testimony simmer on the back burner while proceeding with widely anticipated indictments of Trump campaign officials for “conspiracy to defraud the United States” along with Russian military hackers. Maybe the president could be persuaded to testify in defense of his son Donald Jr., although I doubt it.
The president basically convicted himself as an accessory after the fact on Twitter anyway. He condemned as “Fake News” a report that he was “concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”
In short, virtually everything Trump has previously stated about the ill-fated June 2016 meeting between Donald Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a passel of Kremlin-connected Russians was a lie. Supposedly it was about Russian adoptions, remember? That was the gist of the scripted denial Trump dictated aboard Air Force One and falsely attributed to his son.
A few weeks later, The New York Times obtained a series of emails between Donald Jr. and Rob Goldstone, the British-born publicist who helped arrange the Trump Tower get-together by promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
“If it’s what you say,” Donald Jr. replied, “I love it.”
No mention of Russian orphans.
Meanwhile, two days before the meeting, which President Trump insists he knew nothing about, he’d promised a “major speech” on June 13 regarding “all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.” Evidently because the Russian “dirt” was of low quality, that speech was never delivered.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that an offer had been made and a price agreed upon. The Russians wanted repeal of the Magnitsky Act, a law making it hard for Kremlin oligarchs to launder money.
U.S. election law makes it a crime to receive from foreigners “any contribution or donation of money or other thing of value ... in connection with a federal, state or local election in the United States.” “Dirt,” aka opposition research, can be an expensive commodity. (Also contrary to Trump, hiring an agent like Christopher Steele to do opposition research is perfectly legal. It’s a question of who’s paying: the candidate or a hostile foreign government.)
Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum puts it succinctly as possible:
“They knew they would be meeting with representatives of the Russian State.
“They knew they were being offered Russian state intelligence.
“They intended to use Russian intelligence offered by Russian agents against an American opponent.
“They did not alert the FBI.”
Even former Trump sidekick Steve Bannon, scourge of the “Deep State,” thought meeting Russian agents inside Trump Tower was at best deeply stupid. “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s***,” he said, “and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
And if it weren’t all those things, the White House wouldn’t have had to lie about it for so long.
So no, Trump will never testify.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President”.