May 4, 2018

Trump and Robert Mueller’s great game of chicken

A gif illustration of a gavel hitting between the fingers of an open hand

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Last June, President Trump told me he was “100 percent” willing to answer questions — under oath — from Robert Mueller. Over the tumultuous months that followed, two things have remained consistent: 1) Virtually every lawyer friendly to the president has urged him to avoid an interview; and, 2) The president has said he is willing, even eager, to sit down with the special counsel.

Now it’s the Rudy Show. The President is gearing up, not to talk to Robert Mueller, but to fight him.

  • Rudy Giuliani tells ABC News the Trump legal team is now preparing to battle against a subpoena for Trump to testify. “I think it’s 50/50” that Mueller subpoenas the president’s testimony, Giuliani says. “I got to prepare for the 50 percent.”  
  • What he’s not saying: If the president is amped up to fight an effort by Mueller to force him to testify, he can’t exactly be driving his lawyers crazy anymore by talking about voluntarily testifying.

The big picture: The president and the special counsel are engaged in a game of chicken — both sides threatening steps neither wants, because they could trigger a crisis with dangerous and unpredictable consequences.

  • Trump, for all his Twitter threats about using “the powers granted to the presidency,” knows firing Mueller would have dire political consequences.
  • And Mueller, despite the threat to compel the president to testify, doesn't want to subpoena the president because the ensuing legal battle, which he could lose, would last a minimum of six months and possibly a year.
  • That would give the president’s allies time to wage a campaign to undermine public support for the investigation.

What to watch: The negotiations over a Trump/Mueller interview continue.

  • Despite Rudy’s 50/50 odds, the Trump legal team thinks Mueller won’t pull the trigger on a subpoena, and will ultimately be forced to accept written  answers from the president.

Jonathan Karl is the chief White House correspondent. for ABC News. This post is from "1 Big Guest" in today's Axios AM.

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