President Donald Trump is eager to speak to special counsel Robert Mueller, but his allies and legal team are concerned that Trump will be "a terrible witness" who will say things that could land him in even deeper trouble, said Vanity Fair's Chris Smith.
Trump has declared that he is "100 percent" willing to speak to the special counsel's office and his attorney John Dowd is sounding a similarly cooperative tone, but people familiar with Trump's previous performances in depositions are sounding the alarm.
“The superficial view would be that every day this guy makes stuff up as he goes along, so Trump is going to be a terrible witness, and he’ll say things that will get him in trouble,” said former federal prosecutor Sam Buell, who worked on the government's case against Enron.
“But Trump has experience as a litigant," Buell cautioned, "and maybe he understands the game. So, in his prior depositions, you’re looking for the style in which he answers -- the extent to which he’s prepped.”
As Trump biographer Tim O'Brien has noted, Trump appears to lie freely and blithely under oath, spitting out a gobsmacking 30 falsehoods in two days of testimony in 2007.
Trump can be superficially cooperative and loquacious while delivering these falsehoods, said Smith, as he was in his depositions in a lawsuit filed against O'Brien. Or the former reality TV host can be combative and surly as he was in a 2011 when he upbraided attorney -- and new mom -- Elizabeth Beck for taking a break to pump breast milk.
“He starts screaming, ‘You’re disgusting!’” Beck told Vanity Fair. “Maybe Mueller should wave a breast pump in front of Trump.”
Trump's main interlocutor in any run-in with the special counsel's office is likely to be attorney Andrew Weissman, who Buell told Smith is a top-notch investigator.
“Andrew is super-thorough, persistent, and factual,” Buell said. “He’ll know the record cold, and he’ll be a good listener, to see if he really gets an answer to the question he’s asked. He’s not going to get excited. It will be interesting if he drills down on the different statements and tweets with regard to the [James] Comey firing, or Russia: ‘So, when you wrote this on Twitter, was that a statement of fact? Did you believe it to be true?’”
At the White House, attorney Ty Cobb is attempting to coordinate the simultaneous defense of the president, his advisers like communications director Hope Hicks and others close to Trump during the campaign, transition and early months of the administration.
Cobb's drilling of the president -- and Trump's willingness to focus, take direction and stay on message -- could make all the difference in Trump's success or failure as a witness in his own defense.
Vanity Fair noted that all the planning might be for naught should the administration choose to plead the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incriminating testimony and not to put the president in front of Mueller's team.
“By talking to the government, you’re running an enormous risk of a false statement or perjury,” said former attorney to President Bill Clinton Bob Bennett. “You can only let your client testify if you know he’ll tell the truth.”