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  • Jim Leach

QUESTIONING A PRESIDENT

QUESTIONING A PRESIDENT 


A basic rule in investigating crime says you always interview any suspects. You can’t ever lose site of the fact that the person being questioned about alleged improprieties, may be innocent. His interview may give him the opportunity to explain what actually happened and clear his name. If he is guilty you may discover what his alibi is going to be. Who knows, he might even confess!


In our legal system, a person may refuse to answer a question if there is any possibility the answer may incriminate him in some way. This tactic is known as, “Taking the 5th”, referring to the protection we are guaranteed against self – incrimination in the 5th Amendment to our Constitution. In our system, this is perfectly legal and does not, in and of itself, legally indicate guilt in any way. Of course when a public figure “takes the 5th”, it may affect public opinion and this consideration can influence whether or not the person being interviewed exercises his right to silence.


In order to conduct a truly effective interview – whether with a President or a local drug dealer – you must try and figure what theme you can use in your questioning that will motivate them to; A) talk to you, and B) truthfully talk to you.. A person only tells their story when they believe, for whatever reason, it is in their best interest to do so. Their motivation may be an attempt to relieve stress from a guilty conscience, prove their innocence, try to show their superiority, or perhaps, attempt to receive leniency for themselves or family members through their cooperation.


Properly preparing for an interview is a fundamental requirement to be successful. If the interviewer is not well prepared, he may miss the relevance of a response to a question during the interview, or not recognize a deceitful answer. This is especially important when questioning a high profile individual because you may not get a second chance to interview him. When you try to schedule a second interview, you may be accused of harassment, or of having a desire to ruin his reputation and the request for a second interview will be turned down!


Before you interview a person, you should know all you can about the person and the entire situation. Witnesses, accomplice, friends, and family members can all contribute in this phase of the investigation. In a complex case, such as the Russian Investigation, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the person being questioning to know what information the investigators may have. Many people may have been cooperating with the authorities in order to obtain leniency for their own actions or the actions of other people who are close to them such as family members. At this stage in the investigation there is no reliable way to know who has said what! During the interview answers better be chosen wisely and spoken very carefully because investigators may already know the answer before they ever ask the question. It is a crime to lie to federal officers during an official investigation whether you have been placed under oath or not. A statement which might be considered an exaggeration at a press conference or a campaign rally may very well be a lie when told to federal agents in an official interview.


Another factor an interviewer must take into consideration is the personality of the person being interviewed. He may be normally talkative or a more quiet type of person. We were interviewing a prime suspect in a criminal case and at the very beginning of the interview, the suspect said, “No disrespect, but y’all are just gonna have to put it on me!” Obviously he did not plan to talk to us. Another person may really want to talk to the interviewer. He may actually innocent, OR he may be guilty but believes he can convince the interviewer that he is innocent.


To become President of the United States you must be a successful, accomplished person, very smart, and have plenty of self- confidence. You may even feel a little bit superior to most other people. If this was a situation where WE were being questioned by the Special Prosecutor’s office, it would be a very boring event. One we got past name, address, etc.., the rest of the questions would probably be answered by our attorney and more than likely would consist of exercising our right to silence. However, people who have the ability and the personality to be elected President tend to want to talk. President Nixon insisted, “I am not a crook, and the American people need to know I am not a crook.” President Clinton is famous for saying, “I did not have sexual relations with that women”, and of course he is remembered for questioning what the “definition of is, is.


The President may attempt to basically filibuster the interview by emphasizing there has been no collusion shown so far in the investigation. He has emphasized this belief many times in tweets and media comments. Prosecutors will attempt to insist Mr. Trump answers questions directed toward possible obstruction of justice and money laundering. We think you can anticipate very direct questions which will require direct answers.


It will be interesting to see what transpires IF President Trump is asked to speak with investigators from the Special Prosecutors office. If his lawyers – and you know they are good ones! – totally control the interview… Oh well. On the other hand, if we see the Donald Trump that we have seen for a long time, and he decides to explain his side of the story, it could be very interesting!


Stay tuned!


The author, Jim Leach, formerly served as Director of Criminal Investigations for the Tennessee Highway Patrol. His first book, “You Can Tell ME, a simple guide to effective interviewing”, can be found at Amazon.com