The New York Times has obtained a list of questions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask Donald Trump in conjunction with his investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia and the president’s efforts to obstruct the probe, according to an article published today.
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The Special Counsel provided the questions to the president’s legal team in advance of a prospective interview, and it demonstrates an attempt by Mueller to understand Trump’s mindset, delve into the motivation behind his tweets and public pronouncements, and figure out the relationship between Trump and his family and top staff.
The questions concern four major subjects, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former FBI Director James Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.
The release of such a detailed revelation of the Special Counsel’s line of inquiry is the first insight into Mueller’s secretive investigative process since the probe began last year and it is telling that the majority of questions concern whether the president attempted to obstruct justice when questions about Russian collusion in the campaign first began to singe the edges of his then new administration.
Still, at least some of the questions being proposed for the interview do touch on possible collusion with Russia, for instance:
“What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?”
While Mr. Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, has been indicted by Mueller in conjunction with his questionable business dealings in the service of foreign governments, this is the first public indication that he actually reached out to Russia.
Since much of what the Special Counsel has learned during his investigation comes from the indictment of Trump associates like General Flynn and George Papadopoulos, who have now decided to cooperate in the Mueller inquiry, the president’s biggest risk comes from the likelihood that the Special Counsel already has at least some of the answers to the questions he is posing to Trump.
If the president decides to risk an interview and makes a statement that differs significantly from the recollection of others, Trump’s long history of having at best a tangential relationship to the truth may put him at the risk of perjury and additional accusations of obstruction of justice.
The New York Times article also reveals some of the background that led to the list of questions. The president’s legal team, including his former lead attorney John Dowd, submitted “several pages of written explanations about the president’s role in the matters the special counsel is investigating” to Mueller back in January of this year.
Mueller rejected the document as an inadequate substitute for an interview with Trump and told Dowd in early March that he needed to question the president directly to determine whether he had criminal intent when he fired Mr. Comey.
In the subsequent negotiations, Dowd convinced Mueller to provide the list of questions that he wanted to ask Trump, the questions that have now been disclosed.
The list convinced Dowd that there was no good outcome from any interview the president would give in response to these lines of questioning and told Trump that he should refuse to speak with Mueller in the investigation, but the president insisted that he still wanted to do the interview.
Dowd then resigned over the fact that his legal advice was being ignored. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has now come on board to take over the negotiations with Mueller about the interview.
While The New York Times does not indicate the source of the leak that gave them access to Mueller’s questions, they likely could only have come from either Trump’s legal team or the Special Counsel’s office. The question one must ask is which side has more to gain from the leak, but the ultimate question is whether the interview will ever take place and how will the president answer the questions now that he already knows what will be asked.
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