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Mueller's Question About Manafort Is 'Intriguing'

It suggests special counsel has yet-to-be-revealed evidence related to collusion
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted May 1, 2018 11:37 AM CDT
Mueller's Question About Manafort Is 'Intriguing'
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill for a closed-door meeting before the Senate Judiciary Committee in this file photo.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

(Newser) – The New York Times delivered a big scoop in regard to the Robert Mueller investigation Tuesday when it revealed nearly 50 questions the special counsel has submitted to President Trump's lawyers that he wants the president to answer. "The open-ended queries appear to be an attempt to penetrate the president's thinking, to get at the motivation behind some of his most combative Twitter posts, and to examine his relationships with his family and his closest advisers," according to the Times' main story. Details and developments:

  • 4 categories: See the questions in a separate Times breakdown here. They fall into four categories, regarding Michael Flynn (and whether Trump obstructed justice to try to protect him), James Comey (and whether Trump fired him to protect others), Jeff Sessions (and whether Trump "views law enforcement officials as protectors," per the Times), and the Trump campaign's alleged coordination with Russia (with a focus on the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower).
  • Examples: "What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?" "What was the purpose of your Jan. 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said?" "When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?"

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  • Intriguing question: Aaron Blake of the Washington Post pulls out the "7 most intriguing" questions of the bunch here. His first one: “What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?” It's the inclusion of Manafort that's interesting because he hasn't previously been considered a big part of the collusion allegations. (The charges he faces revolve around money laundering.) "Why specify him and only him?" wonders Blake.
  • Not yet revealed: An analysis by Philip Ewing at NPR zeros in on the same Manafort question. "The reference to 'outreach' suggests the Justice Department may have more evidence it has not yet revealed," he writes. Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare agrees. "This is very interesting," he writes of the Manafort question. "Strong evidence that there are still collusion threads that are not yet public."
  • Collusion: The questions suggest that "the possibility of a Russia-Trump campaign conspiracy is very much alive," writes Greg Sargent at the Washington Post. He notes that Mueller seems especially interested in the Trump Tower meeting between Russians and people in Trump's campaign, including Donald Trump Jr.
  • The tweets: Three of the questions refer to presidential tweets, and the Daily Dot highlights them here. One is Trump's declaration that "Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes'" of their one-on-one meeting. Mueller wants to know the "purpose" of Trump's message there.
  • Not yes or no: For Chris Cillizza at CNN, the big takeaway here is that Mueller's investigation "is wide and broad—and that Trump, in Mueller's mind, can shed lots of light on much of it. That is a very big deal." A post at Politico takes note of the open-ended nature of many of the questions, which "could prove problematic for a president who often has trouble sticking to a script and frequently offers contradictory statements."
  • The interview: It remains very much up in the air whether Trump will actually sit for an interview with Mueller, but Comey tells Axios that "in a normal world, it would be very hard for the president of the United States not to submit to an interview in connection with an investigation that touches upon ... his conduct and that of people around him." However, he adds, "we don't live in that world," so he's not making predictions.
Trump denounced the leak of the questions as "disgraceful." (Read more Robert Mueller stories.)

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