Mueller Offers Trump an Open Book Test — Trump Should Refuse

Someone (possibly named Rudy 911) leaked the questions Robert Mueller wants to ask Trump to the NYT. The NYT, as they’ve been doing for some time, are presenting the president’s exposure in terms of obstruction.

Except that of 44 questions as presented by NYT, 13 are explicitly not about obstruction, and several of the obstruction questions are, I’m fairly sure, about “collusion.”

  1. What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?
  2. What was your reaction to news reports on Jan. 12, 2017, and Feb. 8-9, 2017?
  3. What did you know about Sally Yates’s meetings about Mr. Flynn?
  4. How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017?
  5. After the resignations, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?
  6. What was your opinion of Mr. Comey during the transition?
  7. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s intelligence briefing on Jan. 6, 2017, about Russian election interference?
  8. What was your reaction to Mr. Comey’s briefing that day about other intelligence matters?
  9. What was the purpose of your Jan. 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  10. What was the purpose of your Feb. 14, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  11. What did you know about the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017?
  12. What did you do in reaction to the March 20 testimony? Describe your contacts with intelligence officials.
  13. What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Coats?
  14. What was the purpose of your calls to Mr. Comey on March 30 and April 11, 2017?
  15. What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?
  16. What did you think and do about Mr. Comey’s May 3, 2017, testimony?
  17. Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?
  18. What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?
  19. What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?
  20. What was the purpose of your May 12, 2017, tweet?
  21. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s June 8, 2017, testimony regarding Mr. Flynn, and what did you do about it?
  22. What was the purpose of the September and October 2017 statements, including tweets, regarding an investigation of Mr. Comey?
  23. What is the reason for your continued criticism of Mr. Comey and his former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe?
  24. What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?
  25. What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind?
  26. Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?
  27. What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?
  28. Why did you hold Mr. Sessions’s resignation until May 31, 2017, and with whom did you discuss it?
  29. What discussions did you have with Reince Priebus in July 2017 about obtaining the Sessions resignation? With whom did you discuss it?
  30. What discussions did you have regarding terminating the special counsel, and what did you do when that consideration was reported in January 2018?
  31. What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions?
  32. When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?
  33. What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?
  34. During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?
  35. What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?
  36. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?
  37. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
  38. What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?
  39. During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
  40. What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?
  41. What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?
  42. What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?
  43. What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?
  44. What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

Indeed, the questions seem almost an attempt to pit Trump’s word against Jim Comey’s (questions 6 through 23) as a way to lure him into answering questions that even as written will sink Trump. And that’s assuming there’s not some ulterior motive to the question (and for some of the most open-ended questions — like 33,39, 40, and 41 — I suspect, there is).

So yeah, if Trump has any lawyers still working for him, they should advise him not to take this interview.

But when that happens, it should badly undercut Trump’s claims there was no collusion.


54 replies
  1. RWood says:

    If Drump refuses, will Mueller then resort to a subpoena? If so, this could drag out for months, possibly even into November and beyond.

  2. joejoejoe says:

    I wonder how many of these questions already have open source answers.

    Trump tweeted 3 times about Comey in advance of election day 2016, all referencing stories that implied Comey was a neutral source and Dems/Hillary Clinton were massive hypocrites for complaining about Comey’s statement about the Weiner laptop search/emails. A search of Trump/FBI tweets from the same period reveal much same thing. All that changed when the Steele dossier was published by Buzzfeed on 1/10/17.

  3. Bob Conyers says:

    Can anyone with a better background explain how this might go? What stops Trump (besides his ego) from pulling a Reagan regarding Iran-Contra and just throwing out a bunch of vague answers and “I don’t recall” answers? Or possibly just go off on filibustering tangents about Mexicans and how proud his dad was when he went off to Wharton.

    For example, does Mueller conceivably lay down pieces of evidence to follow up these questions? Such as say that people A, B and C all testified that you said X, Y and Z about #33 – are they correct? Or does he go with these short questions and just see what Trump says?

    In my sense, half this number would try his patience, and I’m not sure how he’d manage to sit that long. Can anyone with more experience in questioning people hazard a guess how Mueller can keep this interview productive?

    • Peterr says:

      These are more “areas of inquiry” as opposed to verbatim questions to be asked. For instance, Mueller won’t ask “What did you know about phone calls from Flynn to Kislyak in late Dec 2016?” He’ll ask “When did you first learn about Flynn’s calls to Kislyak? Who told you? Was it in an email? A staff memo? A phone call? A face-to-face meeting? Where were you? Who else was there? Once you learned about it, what was your initial reaction? With whom did you discuss it? When? Where? . . .” And yes, he’ll have the option of pulling out memos, emails, or testimony from others and inviting Trump to explain or react to it.

      After Trump made his “Mexican immigrants are rapists” comments and Geoffrey Zacharian pulled out of his contract to open a restaurant in the Old Post Office building in DC under Trump’s new ownership, Zacharian’s lawyers deposed Trump. The video was ultimately released, and from the perspective of a Trump lawyer, it was a train wreck. Repeatedly, Trump’s lawyers say “you don’t have to answer that” and Trump overrides them to answer, at times saying things against his own interests. For all his bluster about being a great businessman, his answers were filled with “others handled that” in ways that were not just passing the buck but showed him to be a figurehead in some ways. After this deposition was completed, Trump ended up settling his suit rather than going to court, and I strongly believe that this deposition was what convinced him to walk away from the suit.

      I would assume that Dowd and other Trump lawyers defending him in this probe have looked at that video, and presumably used it as a teaching tool with Trump. “If you do an interview with Mueller, it will be much stronger and worse than this — and here are the problems you created with this interview . . .”

      I would also assume that Mueller and his team have looked at this video and said “Lordy, I hope we *can* depose him.” Just as NFL coaches pore over game film to find their opponent’s weaknesses and develop strategies to exploit them, Team Mueller likely would do (or has done) the same with this deposition to build their list of specific questions underneath each of these 44 general topics, exploiting Trump’s tendencies to shoot himself in his foot when under scrutiny like this.

      • david sanger says:

        ” Trump ended up settling his suit rather than going to court,”

        Maybe he thinks he can get an out-of-court settlement with Mueller to pay him off.

        Seriously, it does not seem that he appreciates how the legal system really works for criminal inquiries.

    • SteveB says:

      With the caveat that the “questionnaire” is leaked by Trump team for their own purposes:

      As I have argued before it suits the Mueller team to have a framework in place so that Trump opportunities to pull a Reagan or gishgabble are restricted.

      I imagine that were they to respond to the request to be interviewed then they would prepare a detailed written statement covering the ground identified in the questionnare, perhaps with attachments of their own with comments on them laid out. Hence they will try to control the narrative in advance, and have a battle plan about referring back to the statement at sticky moments in cross examination.

      The Mueller team strategy in cross examination, I imagine, would be to have closely ordered sequences of narrow follow ups boxing Trump in. Short sharp questions often permitting only yes or no answers.

      Think of the two cross examinations of the bombastic Goering at Nuremberg, Jackson let him of the hook with long questions, Maxwell Fife sliced him to ribbons with tiny ones.

      The more focussed the questions the less scope opposing counsel gets to jump in to argue the toss on grounds specious or otherwise.

      The Trump team will have constructed a narrative which skirts or overcomes the pitfalls Trump has created for himself.

      Though Trump has a tendency to run off at the mouth and talk himself into trouble, I don’t think Mueller will or should rely on that as their strategy to succeed against him. Restraint and constraint are the keys IMHO, Trump will hate it but his lack of discipline in all things will be exposed all the more effectively by patience and resolve.

      It would be handy to have a subpoena in the back pocket for when he flips the table and storms out.


      • Bob Conyers says:

        Thanks to you and Peter R for the information. That gives me a much better sense of how things might go. I’ve read pieces saying that the reason Mueller wanted a face to face interview is that he wanted to essentially look Trump in the eye and get a measure of the man, which always seemed like nonsense to me. This kind of description of the way questions are structured and followups work makes a lot more sense.

      • greengiant says:

        Thanks for the Nuremberg story. From this isolated point the only one saying these are Mueller’s questions is the NYTimes source. Trump lies all the time. Trump gets his surrogates and tweeters to lie all the time. Giuliani lies all the time. Suspect this is just fodder to support team trump’s next machinations.

  4. getouttahere says:

    Seems to me, that the SC has substantial evidence as to what happened concerning each of these subjects covered by the questions. So while the questions are open-ended, in order to answer them, t has to put his head in a fairly tight noose.
    Even though juries are always instructed that questions are not evidence, just the asking of certain questions can be quite persuasive. So, I’d be interested to hear why folks think that the questions were leaked (obviously by someone on t’s team.) The legitimate answer may be simply that the leaker is an AH. (But we knew that.)

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      We’ll know tomorrow by the line that Faux News takes: either it’s “no collusion, out-of-control prosecutor” (which was Nixon arse-licker Hugh Hewitt’s immediate, telling response) or it’s “there are very obvious no-collusion answers and here’s what they are, rewind your TiVo if you need to write them down.”

  5. DMM says:

    Seems shady to base a question about obstruction on whether trump believed Flynn had violated the Logan Act without having charged Flynn with violating it, a tenuous charge that would have faced strong legal challenge.

    Of course, if Trump did instruct Flynn to to tell the Russian govt to back off of any response to the sanctions, he and Flynn should have owned it and challenged Yates or anyone else to make a Logan Act charge stand up in court. These clowns never learn.

    • tryggth says:

      The irony is they obstructed because they thought they violated Logan even though they didn’t have any significant risk from Logan.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      There are a lot of “state of mind” questions, which the NYT parses as obstruction-related, but whaddaya gonna do? Mueller’s team already knows that the WH is leaky as a colander of shit and that ‘King Idiot has the recollective capacity and self-analytical skills of the proverbial domesticated carp.

      Given that Flynn, Gates and Papadopoulos are now cooperating, and there’s fulsome testimony from Comey and McCabe, there’s going to be a lot of factual stuff in evidence alongside accounts of how ‘King Idiot’s state of mind presented itself in various interactions.

      I’m curious to see how the special counsel responds to this leak: perhaps give it a few days to see how the Faux News gobshites process the questions and fabricate a plausible no-collusion narrative (or rant about an out-of-control prosecutor) and then go back to the White House? Mark Meadows and his gang of fuckwits have already drafted articles of impeachment against Rosenstein, so let’s see how that charade evolves.

  6. Peterr says:

    The emphasis on obstruction-based questions rather than underlying potential crimes may simply be that Mueller does not expect Trump to have much that would he would say that could add to their investigation of the conspiracy with Russia. Much of that case will be built on documents, emails, financial records, and other such matters. For obstruction, however, Trump’s mindset becomes key — and the best way to get at that is to aim the questions at him.

    Also, this keeps Trump from deflecting things to others. All these questions are very specifically about Trump and what he did, what he thought, etc. Even for a guy who loves talking about himself, the prospect of covering all these topics and his own role in each has got to be troubling.

  7. sponson says:

    I think a Trump attorney leaked this in order to catalyze the inevitable (and already gelling) media take: that these are very serious questions that Trump dare not try to answer (as EW pointed out). Trump will be reading the media analyses tomorrow and all of them will say he’s in crazy trouble if he tries to answer these.

  8. Colin M says:

    Looking at the comments in the NYT, there are a lot of people accusing the paper of shortsightedness in publishing this leak. They’re overlooking the fact that Trump obviously  has the questions already – he doesn’t need to read them in the paper (and anyway there aren’t any pictures).

    • Bob Conyers says:

      The NY Times article does seem pretty rotten in a different way. They are obviously running a Trump camp version of the story, but they didn’t have to. Eventually the article gets around to mentioning that this is a list compiled by the Trump camp, after the pretty explosive headline and first few grafs. But this is the kind of stenography that Judith Miller used to do. Obviously Mueller’s team isn’t going to comment on the Trump leak. But there is simply no questioning of the validity of the Trump side’s characterization of events.

      I’m sure that to an extent they are not trying to lose a source who might be productive in the future. But this very much reads to me like a reporter going overboard in accepting a source’s spin without asking hard questions and then pivoting to an Olympian set of statements about Mueller’s intentions without any supporting evidence or analysis.

  9. Mitchell says:

    I say all the questions are about getting Donald in a perjury. Proof of anything else would be a bonus.

    • emptywheel says:

      No they’re not.

      Mueller has zero intention of charging Mueller with perjury. None.

    • Peterr says:

      Questions do not get you a perjury charge — answers do. If Trump wants to avoid perjury, there’s a simple foolproof way to do that: tell the truth.

      Prosecutors do not set out to get a perjury charge. That’s what they file when the lies become so deep that they put the original charges in danger.

  10. LowdenF23c says:

    Regarding question #8, do we know what other “intelligence matters” this refers to?  Is it the dossier, or something else?

  11. SteveB says:

    The leak of this question list is no doubt part of Team Trumps effort to shape the PR and Legal battlefields.

    They have ventliloquised Mueller for these purposes.

    They have reshaped and reframed the areas of inquiry with some degree of artfulness.

    The strategy is , perhaps, to create the Appearance of Maximal Cooperation, while in substance avoiding any further pitfalls or entanglement.

    One way of doing this would be to craft a statement which appears fulsome but with a rider:
    ” The President believes that in this statement he has once again fully addressed any proper concern the American People may have relating to the topics covered in the questions tendered for his consideration, further the President believes that much of what he has been asked to consider unduly impinges on the President’s Constitutional Rights Privileges and Duties, and as such are an affront to him, his Office the Constitution and the American People”

    • Trip says:

      Don’t give them any more ideas, @SteveB. They have already met their quota of bullshit filler words that are meaningless.

    • Bob Conyers says:

      I suspect the strategy is to portray the Mueller investigation as a runaway train. Trump’s first tweet today talks about the outrageousness of the leak, which is obviously an attempt to sell this as a Mueller leak, even though the NY Times article explicitly says it’s a compilation of questions that Trump’s team put together. In classic NY Times style, they buried this part deep in the story and behind the Mueller-focused headline and lede, so that the takeaway obscures where this is coming from, and whether this is in fact what Trump’s team says it is.

      I think the number of questions is going to come into play too. Based on what you and others have said earlier, I don’t think this in any way is the form of the interview and I don’t think Mueller necessarily even would ask all of these questions. But I think this list is an attempt by the Trump camp to argue that there’s no way a busy President could be expected to answer all of these questions, he has such a full schedule! Mueller is nuts! He’s out to get me!

      Based on the description in the article of the March phone call(s), I suspect that Mueller’s team gave Trump’s team a broad list of subject areas they might cover in order to avoid the accusation that they were blindsiding Trump and preventing him from being prepared. Trump’s team is now turning this around and going to attack Mueller for 1) being a leaker and 2) going crazy expecting Trump to respond to all of this.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re also trying to poison the well and shut down further cooperation by Mueller, which they will then use to try to further discredit him.

      • bmaz says:

        You are right that these are more “subject areas” than actual questions. I would call them topics, but your description is just as good. I would expect, however, that if Trump ever sits for an interview, that he would be examined on all of these areas, and more.

  12. Trip says:

    Journalists should start asking some of these questions directly, instead of asking about the questions and leak. But then Trump would have to give a press conference; accepting questions and actually answering them, instead of his normal round of disingenuous ‘thank yous’. Asking Huckster-b anything, in the press briefing, is a tremendous waste of time and energy. It’s amazing no one has caught on to the futility of the daily hokey pokey dance.

    Someone suggested that Gates may have leaked them. Would that change anything, in terms of purpose?

  13. SteveB says:

    @ Trp 6:55

    I do not imagine Team Trump and the Chorus need help to hone their obfuscatory skills.

    They have already had several practices runs at alluding to without precisely invoking executive privilege etc.

    These semi-claims of privilege create an appearance of legitimacy, of attention to constitutional nicety while avoiding engagement. Thus they seek to comfort their friends and disconcert their opponents.

  14. Trip says:

    Marcy, was this leak really a heads-up message to Manafort?

    emptywheel‏ @emptywheel
    emptywheel Retweeted Josh Gerstein
    Manafort: OUTRAGE! LEAKS! Trump associate: Hey, here are leaked questions suggesting Manafort reached out to Russia asking for help for the campaign.

    Josh Gerstein‏Verified account @joshgerstein
    NEW: Manafort’s defense demands hearing on leaks of classified, grand-jury secret, and sensitive investigative info about him. Also says they asked prosecutors for intercepts of Manafort & Russians, but Mueller said he had none

    It also seems like a lead in to get Nunes-types squawking about ‘improper’ behavior of the SC.

    • Bob Conyers says:

      That Josh Gerstein article is obscene. It simply repeats the Manafort camp’s claims about government leaks without the slightest skepticism. If Manafort accused Mueller of being the Golden State Killer, would Politico simply report those claims?

      He’s accusing the government of serious crimes and Politico doesn’t offer the slightest bit of proof, nor does it offer any alternative explanations, such as Manafort’s camp leaking themselves.

      Politico and Gerstein are appalling. They know how this article will be used. They know how flimsy it is. They went ahead and posted it anyway.

      • bmaz says:

        Josh is one of the absolutely best reporters at the intersection of law and politics on the planet. He reported what the motion entailed.

        • Bob Conyers says:

          In this climate, simply reporting in isolation a Manafort motion with no context is irresponsible. A responsible headline would have alluded to the string of failed Manafort motions. A responsible opening paragraph would have stressed that fact. They’re accusing the government of some major criminal activity. Responsible journalism requires more than a recitation of the details of the motion.

          If this had been the first motion they had filed, a plain vanilla description may be warranted, but considering how they wanted to toss the warrant because the most idiotic categorization of the guy who initially opened the locker, I think it’s absolutely wrong to give Manafort’s team the benefit of the doubt. Politico knows how this will be used, and they went ahead and published it anyway.

          • bmaz says:

            Josh has reported on all the motions. It is all right there over the period of the Manafort criminal case. I understand your point, but Gerstein is as good as it gets on these kind of issues. Brad Heath at USAToday is also very good, but nowhere near as prolific as Gerstein. Finding legal reporters that actually understand the law and know what they are talking about, which these two very much do, is extremely difficult.

  15. peacerme says:

    The beat all morning has been “obstruction is a nothing burger. Of course he lied. People don’t care if Trump lies. It’s a witch hunt.” Rudy et al will argue that it’s all a technical deal. This am, lots on how many questions are about obstruction. (which means he didn’t break any laws-cause all of us should lie to government, since government is the enemy). Much focus on how it’s “just” about obstruction, not collusion. This is the way they reframe. And its working. My RWingers totally buy this. “They got nothing on him, just trying to set him up like Clinton”. It’s amazingly easy to make this little bit of “projection” convincing to those who “believe”. Ugh. Living with a narcissistic despot is exhausting! The bigger the power and control, the more untethered from truth.

  16. getouttahere says:

    In the light of day, it seems to me that the bad guys’ “strategy” is leak the questions and then profess outrage as part of their plan to attack the SC. It’s of a piece with Jordan et al.’s attack in the House on Rosenstein.  It’s a pathetic strategy and as usual, EW’s guess that it was the idea of the execrable Rudy, is probably correct.

  17. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Rudy seems a good bet.  Even if Trump “knows” the questions from conversations with his lawyer(s), it doesn’t mean he understands them or can place them in their legal or political context.  When Trump sees them in print in the NYT – rather, when someone shows him the article and summarizes its meaning for him – it will have a different impact.

    The questions are wide-ranging.  They include questions related to conspiracy as well as obstruction.  The number and range would intimidate and anger Trump.  “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” and all that. A nervous or angry Trump makes more mistakes.

    Should Trump submit for an interview or be subpoenaed, the questions make it hard for Trump to claim that Mueller blind-sided him.  They make Trump nervous, conflicting with months of advice that “this” will go away in a few weeks.  That was always a bullshit way to handle so errant a personality.

    If Trump answers with lies, that’s a separate felony.  Answers would reflect Trump’s position on the question.  That he shifts positions constantly is one of his defining characteristics.  But Trump gets away with that because he treats every statement of his as marketing “puffery”.  He mistakenly believes that is a universal get out-of-liability card.  It won’t work, for example, if Trump is ever put under oath or subject to liability for lying to a federal prosecutor.

    Mostly, this keeps the ball rolling in Mueller’s favor.  He would have anticipated any exchange of these questions with team Trump might be leaked.  He hasn’t given away anything.

  18. Rugger9 says:

    This assumes that Mueller was the source of the leak, since his shop is remarkably leak-free.  We know that John Dowd had been negotiating with the OSC before leaving the palace, and it would seem possible that these came from contemporaneous notes (from Dowd as payback?).  I think the source will be revealed soon enough.

  19. greengiant says:

    Wapo reported “49” “topics” list was made by Sekulow.   Missing 4 topics heh?

  20. x174 says:

    i appreciate all the thoughtful comments and theories regarding the too-many-questions-for-little-trump’s-brain-to-splain.

    the evident go-between hannity and the 49 questions (8:30) seemed plain enough for anyone to see that he was acting in some sort of legal capacity. trevor noah killed it when he stated that trump’s lawyers “need to launder their legal advice through the teevee” (7:30).–2018—antoinette-robertson-season-23-ep-23096

    strange days indeed

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