On Monday evening, The New York Times published a set of approximately forty questions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller intends to ask President Trump if the two ever sit down for a formal interview. The questions, which came from “a person outside Mr. Trump’s legal team,” according to The Times, give us our best look yet at where the Mueller investigation is headed and where Mueller’s head is when it comes to the major issues on the table: Collusion, Russia, and obstruction of justice.
To be sure, President Trump was not happy with the leak.
“So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were ‘leaked’ to the media,” Trump said on Twitter. “No questions on Collusion. Oh, I see…you have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information. Nice!”
In a follow-up tweet, the president said: “It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!”
While we agree with Trump’s second point, the questions published by the Times would seem to indicate that Mueller is indeed still looking into the possibility that members of the Trump campaign “colluded” with Moscow. Several questions mention the work of Russian hackers and other Kremlin officials and whether or not anyone on the Trump team coordinated with the leak of the DNC’s emails. One question shows that Mueller wants to ask Trump about whether or not he knew that Paul Manafort had made outreach efforts to Moscow. It’s unclear if Mueller actually has any evidence that those outreach efforts took place, but then again, this is the kind of trap you set when you’re a special prosecutor in search of a crime.
The majority of the questions, though, do seem to revolve around the idea that Trump obstructed justice. There are questions about Trump’s criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, on whether Trump offered Michael Flynn the carrot of a pardon after the national security adviser’s resignation, and about what Trump spoke to James Comey about in several meetings the latter has described in congressional testimony (loyalty, Mike Flynn, etc.).
Both Mueller and Rod Rosenstein have assured Trump that he is not a target in this investigation, but we have to say that this list of questions says otherwise. These are not questions merely looking for Trump to act as a “witness” to an ongoing drama. These are questions meant to determine the president’s state of mind when he took specific actions. Their open-ended nature indicates to us that Mueller is hoping to catch Trump in a lie, thus giving him yet another avenue through which to charge him.
Trump, eager to put all of this business behind him, is reportedly still considering the possibility of a sit-down interview with the special counsel. We’re not convinced that’s the wisest course of action, but Trump is going to do what Trump is going to do.