President Trump may have adopted a positive view of talking with special counsel Robert Mueller -- recently, "I'm looking forward to it, actually" -- but at this point, any such interview is still under discussion.
According to three sources heavily involved in the question of whether or not the president will be interviewed by Mueller, conversations between Mr. Trump's personal attorneys and Mueller's team continue. The talks are professional and without rancor, and so far, there hasn't been a determination that Mr. Trump should not or will not be interviewed by Mueller.
The central focus of conversations is the area of questioning and the manner in which the questioning might occur. Several people who offer advice to the president -- like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- think it's a terrible idea for Mr. Trump to sit with the special counsel. However, they are not representing him, and they are not interacting with Mueller and his team.
The most important standard for the lawyers involved in this question is the legal precedent laid out in the Mike Espy independent counsel investigation. Espy was the first secretary of agriculture for President Bill Clinton and was forced to resign under a cloud of allegations that he had accepted gifts from lobbyists. He was prosecuted for corruption by an independent counsel but ultimately acquitted of all charges.
The Espy case established three ground rules for obtaining evidence from the White House:
- Evidence of the commission of a serious crime;
- Established proof that here is no other way to find out certain answers than to seek the evidence from the White House;
- A compelling interest in the evidence that makes it integral to the case (essentially to ward off fishing expeditions).
The Espy case is part of the conversations Mr. Trump's lawyers are having with Mueller's team. The Trump strategy is to force Mueller's team to narrow its range of questions to conform to the Espy standard, if possible. As all lawyers would in this regard, the Trump team knows Mueller may be curious about a lot of topics but will try to force it to apply existing legal standards and limits to any interaction with Trump.
One of his attorneys, Ty Cobb, also looks forward to having the president sit down with the special counsel. He has also pushed the White House to cooperate with the special counsel's probe into Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and any ties between the Russians and the Trump campaign. Cobb recently told CBS News on "The Takeout" podcast that it was his belief that Mr. Trump would sit for a question-and-answer session with the special counsel.
"I would hope that a fair-minded Office of Special Counsel would approach it in a dutiful way consistent with precedent, and it wouldn't just be a perjury trap," Cobb said. Cobb believes that cooperating as fully as possible with the special counsel will bring the investigation into the president to an end more speedily.