A few weeks ago, Rudy Giuliani put on his best tough-guy costume and issued a pretty blunt demand to special counsel Robert Mueller: President Trump wants the investigation wrapped up and complete, with a final report issued no later than Sept. 7.
If not, Giuliani said, “we will just unload on him like a ton of bricks.”
Well, that deadline is now upon us, and the only bricks in sight are those laid by Giuliani every time he makes a public statement. I’m not sure those bricks amount to a ton quite yet, but it must be getting pretty close.
Thursday’s brick from Giuliani came in the form of an edict: Donald Trump will refuse to answer all questions from Mueller, written or in person, about possible obstruction of justice. It ain’t gonna happen, might as well fehgedaboutit.
"That’s a no-go. That is not going to happen,” he told the Associated Press. “There will be no questions at all on obstruction.”
A couple of hours later, Giuliani tried to walk it back, suggesting that if you thought he meant no, you’re mistaken. His final “no” wasn’t a final final “no.”
“We're very opposed to that [but] we're not closing it off 100 percent,” he told Politico. “We don't want to mislead [prosecutors] and have them think it's easy, but we have also not closed our mind to it."
This is at least the second time that Giuliani has drawn that line and then walked away from it. What’s going on? Why all the evasion and indecision?
The answer is that Trump and his legal team find themselves trapped in a predicament from which they have no escape. The politics of the situation dictate that they do one thing; the legal realities dictate that they do the opposite. And so they dither, doing neither, not saying yes and not saying no, or saying both yes and no.
Legally speaking, they know that a grand jury appearance, under oath, would be a disaster for Trump. He would have to tell the truth, which would be a major problem, or he would lie, which would also be a major problem. In Bob Woodward’s book, he quotes Trump lawyer John Dowd’s advice to dramatic effect:
"Don't testify. It's either that or an orange jump suit."
But politically speaking, refusing to testify creates another set of problems. It would be a disaster for a U.S. president to in effect take the Fifth Amendment and refuse to testify about possible criminal conduct and conspiracy with the Russian government. In a recent USA Today poll, an overwhelming majority of Americans -- 63-27 percent -- said they want Trump to submit voluntarily to an interview with Mueller, and the Trump camp’s internal polls are no doubt telling them the same thing.
It’s also telling to note the difference in demeanor between the two camps. While you get a strong whiff of panic from the Trump camp, the great stone face that is Robert Mueller says nothing. The Trump team makes demands and issues deadlines; the Mueller camp patiently ignores them. The Trump team changes their stories, changes their explanations, changes their lawyers and positions; Mueller’s team patiently ignores them. The Trump team launches a sustained, all-out public-relations war against Mueller’s credibility; Mueller still says nothing, and with that silence wins that war.
History tells us that unlike Trump and Giuliani, Mueller speaks through actions, and I expect he will do so loudly, through a subpoena, after the mid-terms and before the end of the year. His job is to get answers, answers require questions, and he doesn’t seem the type to leave things undone.