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Trump keeps flip-flopping on an interview with Mueller

With indications that special counsel Robert Mueller is seeking an interview with President Trump, here are some burning questions his team will want to ask. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is seeking to question President Trump, but Trump's willingness to engage is unclear because he and his team keep changing their answers when questioned by reporters.

In the latest development, the New York Times reports that Trump's lawyers have advised him against granting a sit-down interview, partly because they fear a president prone to falsehoods might perjure himself. A refusal to speak with Mueller in person would represent a dramatic shift from Trump's initial position.

At a news conference last June, shortly after former FBI director James B. Comey testified before Congress about his interactions with the president, ABC's Jonathan Karl asked Trump, “Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of events?”

“One hundred percent,” Trump replied. He went on to dispute Comey's sworn testimony that Trump had requested a loyalty pledge from Comey.

“So, if Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about that, you'd be willing to talk to him?” Karl followed up.

“I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you, Jon,” Trump answered.

In January, however, The Washington Post's Carol D. Leonnig reported that Trump's attorneys, having been notified by Mueller's team that an interview request was likely, were discussing “how to avoid a sit-down encounter or set limits on such a session.”

During a news conference two days after Leonnig's report, Fox News's John Roberts asked Trump: “Are you open to meeting with [Mueller]? Would you be willing to meet with him without condition or would you demand that a strict set of parameters be placed around any encounter between you the special counsel?”

Trump dodged the question.

“Well, again, John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians, or Trump and Russians,” the president said. “No collusion.”

Roberts repeated his inquiry.

“We'll see what happens,” Trump replied. “I mean, certainly I'll see what happens. But when they have no collusion, and nobody's found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview.”

At a media briefing the next day, Bloomberg's Shannon Pettypiece contrasted Trump's “we'll see” with his “100 percent” and asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “What's changed between the summer and now, and the president's thinking about speaking with Robert Mueller?”

“Nothing has changed,” Sanders insisted, despite Trump's apparent shift. “We're going to continue to be fully cooperative with the special counsel, as we have been.”

She did not say whether “fully cooperative” meant that the president would consent to an in-person interview.

CBS's Major Garrett put the same question to White House attorney Ty Cobb in a podcast interview last month.

“What happened in the intervening months, and is there a significant difference between the two assessments from the president of the United States?” Garrett asked, referring to what Trump said in June 2017 and what he said on Jan. 11.

“Well, I think that there's no significant distinction,” Cobb said. “The president's very eager to sit down and explain whatever is responsive to the questions.”

Even as he said Trump is “very eager to sit down,” however, Cobb also raised the prospect that Trump would answer questions in writing. Cobb added that he and Trump's personal attorneys would likely negotiate terms such as whether the president would be under oath and which subjects could be discussed.

The Post's Leonnig, Sari Horwitz and Josh Dawsey reported on Jan. 23 is that “the president's legal team hopes to provide Trump's testimony in a hybrid form — answering some questions in a face-to-face interview and others in a written statement.”

Based on the latest Times report, it appears that Trump's team has pulled back even farther and now aims to avoid a sit-down interview altogether.

This post has been updated since its original publication on Jan. 24 to reflect a Feb. 5 New York Times report.