Former Trump political adviser, Roger Stone, was recently interviewed on Fox News regarding Trump’s newfound willingness to be interviewed by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III in connection with the ongoing Russia probe. Stone posited that Mueller is looking to entrap Trump in a perjury situation. Perjury occurs when a person who is sworn to tell the truth, as the president would be during such an interview, knowingly makes a misrepresentation of fact, or lies.

Stone is a former Nixon operative, and has for decades been a confidant and political guru to Donald Trump, and is the subject of a recent Netflix special documenting his colorful life in politics.

Trump, never known to pick his words carefully, and possessing, at best, a casual relationship with reality, would be in great legal danger in such a situation. Indeed, history has shown that even more conventional presidents have not fared well against special counsel investigations.

Precedent: It depends on what your definition of 'is' is

In January of 1998, then-President Bill Clinton was deposed by lawyers for Paula Jones in regard to a civil action she was bringing against him. While under oath, Clinton denied having a relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern and staffer, saying, “there’s nothing there.” During grand jury proceedings brought by Special Counsel Kenneth Starr, Clinton was asked about these remarks (which were demonstrably untrue).

Clinton then tried to split hairs, arguing about the definition of the word “is.” Clinton argued that the statement reflected the status of his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky at the exact time he was questioned in the deposition, by which time he had broken off the relationship. However, Starr disagreed and referred perjury and obstruction of justice charges to the House of Representatives.

The rest is history.

Can any of us really imagine President Trump having the self-awareness to even try to split hairs like that? I certainly can’t. It’s clear what the intent is in the Special Counsel’s office. Get Trump under oath and let him do what he does best: spout off, talk off the cuff, and spew untruths faster than they can be counted, thereby placing him on the hook for a perjury charge.

That is, in addition to anything else that the Special Counsel might find.

What is Trump's alternative?

It’s important to remember that Trump has not obliged himself to an interview. He is not under a subpoena to appear, and he has changed his mind on his willingness to be interviewed multiple times before. It’s also important to remember that Trump included a pretty big caveat in his statement. He said that he was going to listen to his lawyers before deciding on anything. Any lawyer worth his retainer would be jumping up and down, screaming at Trump to, under no circumstances, talk to anyone under oath. They could suggest that Mueller send over interrogatories. Interrogatories are written questions that are answered in writing under oath.

This would allow Trump to answer Mueller’s questions while his lawyers can ensure that he generally stays on message and doesn’t add any unnecessary or untrue information. Then-President Richard M. Nixon used this approach during the trial of John Erlichman for the Watergate Hotel break-in.

The trick when talking to a lawyer is to answer their questions as directly and concisely as possible without offering any information beyond the scope of the question. This is not in the president’s skill set. Without some kind of moderating influence to keep him on script, Trump is in grave danger, for better or worse, should he grant Mueller an interview.