Donald Trump

Chris Kleponis/Sipa USA

Trump: Publication Of Proposed Questions From Mueller Is 'Disgraceful'

May 01, 2018 - 1:15 pm
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WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/AP) -- President Donald Trump said Tuesday that it is "disgraceful" that a list of proposed questions from special counsel Robert Mueller was "leaked" to the news media.

The New York Times late Monday published around four dozen questions compiled by Trump's lawyers during negotiations with Mueller's investigators earlier this year over the prospect of a presidential interview.

The questions relate to a variety of subjects, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was later fired and has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI; former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump also fired; Attorney General Jeff Sessions; and campaign coordination with Russia in general.

Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, whether Trump's campaign was involved and if the president obstructed justice after the campaign.

The Times report said Trump's lawyers compiled the questions into a list and that document was "provided to The Times by a person outside Mr. Trump's legal team."

“The New York Times prints more than 40 of these questions that they say the special counsel provided to President Trump’s legal team as the effort continues to essentially arrange an interview between Special Counsel Robert Mueller and President Trump, and what this list indicates is that the special counsel is very interested in asking Mr. Trump questions about the firing of James Comey, what led up to that, his conversations with Comey, which all indicates that the special counsel is very interested in pursuing this line of questioning about obstruction of justice,” CBS News White Correspondent Steven Portnoy told WCBS 880’s Wayne Cabot and Paul Murnane on Tuesday.

The questions range from Trump's motivations for Comey a year ago to contacts Trump's campaign had with Russians. Although Mueller's team has indicated to Trump's lawyers that he's not considered a target, investigators remain interested in whether the president's actions constitute obstruction of justice and want to interview him about several episodes in office. They have not yet made a decision about an interview.

Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow declined to comment to The Associated Press, as did White House lawyer Ty Cobb.

In his tweet, Trump said there were "no questions on Collusion" and, as he as many times before, called Mueller's investigation a "Russian witch hunt." He said collusion with the Russians "never existed."

In a second tweet, Trump said: "It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened."

But the questions do appear to indicate that Mueller is looking into possible collusion, as CBS News Legal Analyst Rikki Klieman told WCBS 880's Steve Scott and Michael Wallace Tuesday afternoon.

“It is not true to say that they have nothing to do with collusion, though many of the questions are certainly about the possibility of obstruction of justice,” she said.

Some questions touch on Russian meddling and whether the Trump campaign coordinated in any way with the Kremlin. In one question obtained by the Times, Mueller asks what Trump knew about campaign staff, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, reaching out to Moscow.

Mueller has brought several charges against Manafort already, including money laundering and bank fraud. None of the charges relate to allegations of Russian election interference and possible coordination with Trump associates, and Manafort has denied having anything to do with such an effort.

One question asks what discussions Trump may have had regarding "any meeting with Mr. Putin," referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another question asks what the president may have known about a possible attempt by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to set up a back channel with Russia before Trump's inauguration.

Many of the questions obtained by the Times center on the obstruction issue, including his reaction to Sessions' recusal from the Russia investigation, a decision Trump has angrily criticized.

The queries also touch on Trump's businesses and his discussions with his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, about a possible Moscow real estate deal. Cohen's business dealings are part of a separate FBI investigation.

Many additional questions center on Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his discussions on sanctions against Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition. Flynn is now cooperating with Mueller's investigators.

"What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?" reads one question. Another asks if there were any efforts to reach out to Flynn "about seeking immunity or possible pardon."

Flynn was fired Feb. 13, 2017, after White House officials said he had misled them about his Russian contacts during the transition period by saying that he had not discussed sanctions.

The following day, according to memos written by Comey, Trump cleared the Oval Office of other officials and encouraged Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.

Klieman said Mueller's questions as a whole do not come as a surprise.

“Roger Stone, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, backchannel communication to Russia – all of these are things that have swirled around in the press. So with that kind of laundry list that I’ve given you, I think we can come to this conclusion – Robert Mueller and his team have gone through a painstaking investigation, and they know the answers to all of these questions because they have the answers from other sources of evidence,” she said.

Klieman said since Mueller has a subject as high-profile and powerful as the president of the United States, he would want Trump to confirm what he already knows.

“The difficulty for the president is, should he ever go in to talk to Robert Mueller and his team, is what if he doesn’t confirm, and what if he has other stories that the Mueller team can show by other evidence are not true?” she said.

Trump said sometime back that he would be willing to go along with a sit-down with Mueller. But there are questions now as to when and whether that will happen.

“He recently hired Rudy Giuliani to join his legal team, and the thinking within the last couple of weeks has been that despite the raids on Michael Cohen’s office and residence and hotel room, that bringing Rudy Giuliani – the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District – into the fold would perhaps kind of sort of feather the bed for a possible interview,” Portnoy said.

Portnoy noted that the possibility of a meeting between Trump and Mueller has been in the headlines for months now, but nothing is known to be on the calendar.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)