The president is in negotiations to talk to Mueller’s team. Here’s what might be on the agenda.
President Trump could sit down with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators as soon as the next few weeks, though any cooperation from the president is being carefully negotiated right now, according to The Post’s Carol D. Leonnig.
Leonnig reports that Trump is eager to sit down with Mueller’s team in an effort to clear his name, but his lawyers are understandably more cautious. They would like to set parameters for the discussion and possibly respond to certain questions via written answers, as President Ronald Reagan did with Iran-contra.
In other words, there’s a lot that hasn’t been decided, and we don’t know that Trump will even sit down for an interview at this point. But with the prospect of the president answering questions now on the table, it’s worth reviewing a few things that badly need an explanation from the man at the center of this whole investigation.
Below are a few burning questions for Trump.
1. Why did you craft Donald Trump Jr.’s misleading response on the meeting with the Russian lawyer?
After Trump Jr.’s explanation of the meeting fell apart repeatedly, The Washington Post reported that the president himself dictated Trump Jr.’s misleading statement that the meeting was about Russian adoptions and not the 2016 campaign.
At the time, those close to Trump admitted it was a misstep for him to involve himself in the matter, especially in a way that could be interpreted as a coverup. His team had reportedly planned to be more forthcoming before Trump intervened.
Trump should be asked why, exactly, he thought the statement should be changed, and if it’s because he believed it would be wrong or illegal for the meeting to have been about dirt on Hillary Clinton (which is what Trump Jr. was promised). If he didn’t think it was wrong, then why did he intervene at all and try to apparently obscure the truth?
2. You told NBC News’s Lester Holt, “When I decided to [fire FBI Director James B. Comey], I said to myself, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’” Did you mean that you fired Comey to impact the investigation? And if not, why did you mention Russia while talking about your decision to fire Comey?
Some have read this quote as an admission that Trump fired Comey because ofRussia, but Trump doesn’t state it so plainly. He said Russia was on his mind, but he didn’t say that it was the reason he did it. That may seem like quibbling, but the legal standard for obstruction of justice is difficult to meet, especially when a president’s broad executive authorities are involved.
It would be great to hear Trump explain his wayward comment to Holt more fully. And if he maintains he didn’t fire Comey because of Russia, it would be great to hear why he even brought that up in the Holt interview.
3. Have you done anything official for the purpose of protecting yourself from this investigation?
This is related to No. 2, but given the sheer volume of things Trump has reportedly done that seem aimed at influencing the investigation, Mueller should get him on the record as denying any of the moves were intended to obstruct justice. Then, the investigators could ask about each one of them, including:
- Dispatching White House counsel Don McGahn to convince Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself
- Requesting Comey’s loyalty
- Suggesting Comey take it easy on former national security adviser Michael Flynn
- Asking Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers to deny that there was evidence of collusion with Russia
4. Did you tell Flynn what to say to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about President Barack Obama’s sanctions?
Flynn, during the transition period, spoke with Kislyak and asked Moscow not to respond forcefully to the sanctions Obama had imposed for Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He initially denied having discussed sanctions at all.
The question is whether he was acting at the direction of Trump and whether he made Kislyak any assurances about how the Trump administration would handle sanctions. Basically anything Trump knew about this whole back-and-forth seems worth probing.
5. Did you know Flynn had lied to the FBI when you fired him? And did you ask Comey to take it easy on Flynn?
A month ago, a Trump tweet said that he had fired Flynn because Flynn lied to Vice President Pence and to the FBI. The problem: At the time Trump fired Flynn, the public only knew he lied to Pence. And given that Comey said Trump asked him to be lenient with Flynn soon after the national security adviser was fired, this would mean Trump knew Flynn was under investigation when he sought to intervene on his behalf. In other words, another possible obstruction angle.
Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, later took responsibility for the tweet, saying it was sloppily worded and that Trump didn’t actually know that Flynn was in trouble for lying to the FBI. Given the tweet, though, it would seem fair game to ask Trump what he knew at the time — and why, if he didn’t know Flynn was under investigation, he would have even asked for leniency. (Trump has denied asking for leniency for Flynn, of course, which would also be good to get on the record in order to compare it with what others have told investigators.)
6. Did you ever direct anybody in your campaign to reach out to Russia, or did you hear about anybody doing such a thing?
Trump previously denied that anybody in his campaign had contact with Russia. That has now completely fallen apart, so it’s worth asking again and seeing how much he changes his statement. How much did Trump know about George Papadopoulos’s attempts to broker contact with the Russians? Or about Trump Jr.’s meeting beforehand? Or about Trump Jr.’s contacts with WikiLeaks?
Was Trump really in the dark about all of this, or does he simply not believe it constitutes collusion?