December 11, 2019

Mueller Outlined Over 40 Questions for Trump in Potential Interview.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly year-old investigation has remained largely opaque, save for the occasional public filing, while indicting or obtaining guilty pleas from 19 people. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Associated Pres.

WASHINGTON—Special counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year outlined for President Donald Trump’s legal team more than 40 questions he planned to ask in a possible interview with the president as part of his investigation into Trump associates’ ties to Russia, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The questions focused largely on the president’s decisions to fire former FBI Director James Comey last spring as the agency’s Russia investigation was under way and to oust former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his contacts with Russia.

Mr. Mueller planned to ask the president the reasoning behind those decisions and his statements on the subject in the ensuing months, Mr. Trump’s lawyers concluded.

Mr. Trump’s attorneys compiled a list of the questions after the talks with Mr. Mueller’s investigators. The questions were confirmed by the person familiar with the matter.

One of the anticipated questions asks when and why Mr. Trump made the decision to fire Mr. Comey, and what advisers were involved in that decision. Another probes the president’s intent in a meeting with Russian diplomats at the White House on May 10, 2017, in which he told them that firing the former FBI director had taken “great pressure” off him, according to a New York Times report last year.

Mr. Mueller also sought to understand why the president has continued to attack Mr. Comey—as well as his deputy, Andrew McCabe —in the year since his firing. Mr. McCabe was fired in March for allegedly making an unauthorized disclosure to the media after months of attacks by the president.

Mr. McCabe’s lawyer has attacked the process that led to his client’s firing and threatened to sue the president and others for wrongful termination and defamation.

The questions, first reported by the New York Times, include one on whether the president had contacted Mr. Flynn about immunity or pardons. Asked about whether he would pardon Mr. Flynn after the former adviser pleaded guilty in December, Mr. Trump told reporters he didn’t “yet” want to discuss pardoning his former aide.

The questions offer new insight into the direction of Mr. Mueller’s nearly year-old investigation, which has remained largely opaque, save for the occasional public filing, while indicting or obtaining guilty pleas from 19 people. A spokesman for the president’s legal team declined to comment, and a representative of the special counsel declined to comment.

The questions also seek to probe Mr. Trump’s frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation last year, and whether the president sought to stop Mr. Sessions from doing so.

One question asks whether the president ever discussed whether Mr. Sessions would “protect” him as attorney general. Mr. Trump has repeatedly attacked Mr. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation and has suggested he would have appointed a different attorney general had he known Mr. Sessions would do so.

Another question focuses on Mr. Trump’s attacks on the special counsel investigation itself, probing whether the president ever discussed terminating the special counsel. Mr. Trump last summer wanted to fire Mr. Mueller, but backed off when his top White House lawyer said he would resign rather than carry out the order, the Journal reported earlier this year.

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The special counsel is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Mr. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction, and Moscow has denied election meddling.

The president’s legal team had expected an interview with the special counsel to focus on the obstruction question, in particular on the firings of Messrs. Comey and Flynn. But the questions Mr. Mueller shared with the team also included a number of queries about whether Mr. Trump was aware of contacts between his associates and Russians during the campaign and transition.

In particular, Mr. Mueller planned to ask the president when he first learned of a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.; his son-in-law Jared Kushner; his then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort; and a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin. He also planned to ask whether Mr. Trump was aware of efforts, including by Mr. Kushner, to set up a back-channel with Russia.

Mr. Kushner considered setting up a secret communications line with Russia during the presidential transition to discuss the country’s military operations in Syria and other issues, the Journal reported last year.

Mr. Mueller also sought to ask whether Mr. Trump was aware of any contacts between his campaign, including Mr. Manafort, and Russia about foreign assistance to the campaign.

The list also contains questions about the president’s knowledge of communications between former adviser Roger Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as well as a meeting in the Seychelles weeks before the inauguration between Trump donor Erik Prince and a Russian executive. A lawyer for Mr. Stone said Mr. Mueller hasn’t contacted his client.

Mr. Mueller’s questions also include some on Mr. Trump’s business dealings before and during the campaign. One question asks about the president’s communication with longtime lawyer Michael Cohen—currently the focus of an investigation by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations, which Mr. Cohen has denied—regarding Russian real-estate projects during the campaign. Another asks about Mr. Trump’s “communication and relationships” with Russian government officials and the billionaire Agalarov family during a 2013 trip to Moscow.

Mr. Cohen told the Journal last year that he discussed a prospective real-estate deal in Moscow with Mr. Trump on three occasions during the presidential campaign—communications that have come under scrutiny because of a January 2016 email Mr. Cohen sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top press official to ask for “assistance” in arranging the deal.

The legal team in recent months has been seeking to reach an agreement with Mr. Mueller on what questions could be asked, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a member of the team representing Mr. Trump in the Russia investigation, met with Mr. Mueller last week to discuss a possible interview with the president, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Trump’s lawyers have spent the past several months discussing with Mr. Mueller’s team the parameters of a possible interview, which Mr. Trump has said he has been eager to do.

One particular question the president’s legal team is seeking to answer is whether the special counsel’s team has “made any conclusion about credibility,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview last week. “Do they favor Comey over Trump in terms of credibility?”

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at

Source: The Wall Street Journal