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Seth Abramson @SethAbramson
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(THREAD) BREAKING NEWS on CNN: Robert Mueller has offered to accept written answers from Trump on Russia, and won't ask for written answers on Obstruction. This news is DEVELOPING, but I'll offer a real-time legal analysis of it in this thread. I hope you'll read on and retweet.
1/ First, understand that this is not what Mueller wanted or wants. He wants multiple live interviews, preferably under oath (though legally that will make no significant difference, as you can't legally lie to the FBI) and with the ability for follow-up questions, on all topics.
2/ Part of Mueller's offer could be a calculation that a) a court battle over a subpoena would take many months and harm Americans' confidence in the probe, b) he could lose that battle with Kavanaugh on the bench, and c) Trump is going to lie in whatever format he is questioned.
3/ Trump has already delayed resolving this issue for *15 months*, given that he first promised he was "100%" willing to speak to Mueller "under oath" back in summer 2017. So Mueller understands that Trump right now is controlling the timing of this issue and he will continue to.
4/ That Trump's been controlling this issue is a problem for Mueller, as for Trump the case is 100% political: he can't be indicted in office; he won't resign (partly because he could be indicted if he did); and doesn't think there will ever be 67 votes in the Senate for removal.
5/ So Trump benefits when things are dragged out, first because it causes people to get tired of the case, and second because as we get closer to the next election, it becomes easier and easier for Trump to make the argument that continued investigation of him is simply politics.
6/ Mueller knows 10 times what Trump-Russia researchers know, and Trump-Russia researchers know Trump is guilty of Conspiracy, so that means Mueller knows Trump is guilty of Conspiracy—and as Trump knows he conspired, he too knows he's guilty of Conspiracy. Here's why it matters:
7/ Mueller knows there are no answers Trump can give to questions on Russia that'll be honest. They'll be lies—as Trump is indeed guilty of Conspiracy. So on *some* level one could argue that it doesn't matter *what* format Trump issues sworn or unsworn lies to the FBI in, right?
8/ That's true to an extent, if a) all Mueller wants is for Trump to add Making False Statements to the FBI to his rap-sheet, and b) Mueller already has—or believes he will soon have—all the evidence he needs on Trump-Russia (-UAE/-Saudi) collusion that Trump's words add little.
9/ That Mueller is willing to pass on written questions on Obstruction confirms a point I and other attorneys researching Trump-Russia legal issues have said for a long time: Mueller *has* Trump on Obstruction—that case is ready to be made. But Mueller's aim is a Conspiracy case.
10/ The canard that Mueller's final aim is—and that his evidence will only support—an Obstruction case against Trump is a lie *manufactured by Trump's legal team*. It has no basis in reality. Obstruction was a slam-dunk for Mueller long ago—the Conspiracy case is the complex one.
11/ It's not complex because it can't be proven—far from it. It's complex because it has more moving pieces from a legal, investigative, procedural, and political standpoint. So Giuliani wants you to think Mueller was sweating Obstruction; he wasn't. He was working on Conspiracy.
12/ Any answer Trump gives on Russia will be a lie, and Mueller doesn't need more than he already has from Trump—tweets, speeches, my god, it goes on and on—on Obstruction. And he doesn't want to fight over a subpoena for a year-plus. So why not take Trump's lies in written form?
13/ While Mueller does *lose* the back-and-forth, follow-up questions, body-language analysis, pressure tactics, surprise questions, and much more that a live cross-examination brings, if *everything* you're going to get is a lie *anyway*, at what point is it diminishing returns?
14/ The takeaways in this developing news: a) Mueller is all set on Obstruction; b) his focus is on Conspiracy—the criminal end of the lay term "collusion"; c) he thinks Trump will lie about anything and everything on Russia; d) he wants to assert control over the probe's pacing.
15/ But there's also e): he's calling Trump's bluff. If what I've written here is true, *Trump can't even answer written questions on Russia and will have to find an excuse not to do so*. And that's what I expect he will do; I don't even think these written questions will happen.
16/ Trump and his team may well find a way to *pretend* to offer answers—e.g. the answers come from his attorneys as a representation of "information and belief" and not from Trump, or the "answers" merely point to Trump's past statements—but Mueller won't get a real examination.
17/ So I think—under the circumstances—Mueller is making a fine call here. The alternative is an ugly, politicized court battle to *maybe* get a live interview with Trump, where all he'll get is deceit and nothing that advances the case beyond new Making False Statements charges.
18/ All that said, don't confuse this offer from Mueller with Mueller being close to done with his work—he makes this offer now knowing Trump and his team will *still* dither and dissemble and deceive for many more months before producing anything in writing (if they do at all).
19/ What Mueller's done is take politics out of this negotiation by seeming reasonable, which is exactly what Trump and his team—who view all of this as a political game, not a case of real legal jeopardy—want and need it to be. In that view, Mueller's being quite shrewd himself.
20/ As this situation develops, I'm sure I'll write more on it. For now, I can't say this news changes even a single thing about the analyses I've offered in the past—indeed, it seems to confirm a *number* of them. Trump *is* guilty of Conspiracy and America *will* see that. /end
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