5 lessons Trump's new lawyer could teach him from the Clinton impeachment
Posted May 2, 2018 2:09 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — With one of former President Bill Clinton's impeachment-era lawyers headed back to the White House, this time to help President Donald Trump cope with Robert Mueller's investigation, it's worth asking: What can Trump learn from the Clinton White House's misadventures?
The departure of Trump lawyer Ty Cobb, followed by news of the hiring of Emmet Flood, could signal a new and less friendly tack from Trump's ever-evolving legal team, which has mostly played nice with the special counsel. The President, meanwhile, routinely dismisses the inquiry as a "WITCH HUNT."
Clinton, of course, didn't have access to a smartphone with a Twitter app, so this -- for about a thousand reasons -- is hardly an apples to apples comparison. But his and Trump's fates could be merging on at least one front, as Mueller appears closer to pushing, perhaps via subpoena, for Trump to testify under oath.
So with Clinton's case in mind, what's this president to do?
1. Get his story straight — because the questions are a-comin'
As CNN legal analyst and Supreme Court guru Joan Biskupic wrote on Wednesday, past precedent suggests that, one way or another, Trump will be subject to questioning (even if, for now at least, the prospect is very much open for debate).
A look at the outline of Mueller's potential queries, as reported by The New York Times on Monday, suggests Trump's current tactics -- yelling on Twitter being at the top of the list -- won't be of much use when and if he's confronted with some very direct, specific asks.
Clinton, when under oath with special counsel Ken Starr, tried to slip similarly narrow questions with a round of now-infamous riffs of legalese. See: his memorable disquisition on the definition of "is."
2. Don't (try to) be too clever
Simple one, here.
Though no stranger to legal proceedings, Trump doesn't possess Clinton's legal expertise (for all the good it did him). He isn't going to talk his way out of this. He could, should he try, talk himself into something way worse -- much like Clinton did. Clinton's tortured denials are now among the most-remembered lines of his presidency.
Trump has already taken one cue from Clinton and denied denied denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Russia. If there is, in fact, "NO COLLUSION" or otherwise untoward or illegal behavior to conceal, and only potentially embarrassing political details, the applicable lesson from the Clinton saga is: Either be truthful -- or quiet.
3. Not on camera...
There is next-to-no shot that Trump is going to come out looking good, by anyone's standards, after a few hours under the gun with Mueller.
Again, Clinton learned that lesson firsthand. The transcripts of his grand jury testimony would have been bad enough, but the tape of it was the real shocker. Clinton looked anything but slick. He looked tired and defeated and sounded, well, like he was lying.
There's a very good and probably correct argument to be made that, in the current climate, the public reaction wouldn't compare to what it was two decades ago, no matter what Trump says. That is, of course, barring some revelation about a particular 2013 visit to Moscow. And while people might be (too) used to Trump's lying, there's a difference -- in how it might be perceived -- between his triumphantly volunteering blatant untruths and offering them defensively, after being cornered by a skilled prosecutor.
4. Make peace with the 2016 election results
This would be a good time for Trump to internalize that, no, he didn't win the popular vote and, for his own sake, that it's fine: Everyone knew the rules going in.
Why, a sane person might ask, would this matter?
The answer, sane person, is that so much of Trump's anger -- and rationalizing and, ultimately, false claims that millions of undocumented immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton -- has been rooted in his frustration at the suggestion that someone, or some other country's intelligence apparatus, should be credited for delivering his election win. Being honest won't cost Trump anything here. His base thinks he's the ultimate political iconoclast and that this whole exercise is bogus. His opponents think he's a fraud, or worse, and aren't going to be disabused of that idea by what would likely be a transparently misleading answer.
Telling Mueller the truth about his campaign's contacts with Russia won't change any of it. Lying as an ego booster won't either -- except that it could further endanger the presidency he fought so hard to claim.
5. Don't blink
Clinton ended his second term with his popularity soaring. Is it likely Trump will follow the same trajectory? No. Do we know anything, really, for sure? Definitely not.