Trump fumes over Mueller’s questions
President Trump denounced the investigation into Russian election meddling as “a trap” this week, after a leaked list of the special counsel’s potential interview questions shed new light on the scope of the probe. The list of 49 questions obtained by The New York Times, which were compiled by Trump’s attorneys after their talks with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, covered both his campaign’s dealings with Russia—the issue of “collusion”—and his possible obstruction of justice in trying to impede the investigation, including his firing of then–FBI Director James Comey. In one question, Mueller’s team asks what Trump knew about former campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s “outreach” to Russia for help in the campaign—a previously undisclosed allegation. In a series of tweets, Trump dismissed questions about obstruction of justice as an attempt to set him up. “It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened!” Trump tweeted.
Mueller recently warned Trump’s legal team that the president could be subpoenaed if he refuses to submit to an interview with investigators, The Washington Post reported. The internal White House dispute over how to handle Mueller’s interview request ultimately led to President Trump’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, resigning not long after that meeting. A second member of Trump’s legal team, White House lawyer Ty Cobb, announced his resignation this week. Emmett Flood, who represented President Bill Clinton during his impeachment, will replace him, with White House sources describing Flood as “a wartime consigliere.”
What the columnists said
White House aides appear to have leaked these questions to persuade Trump not to testify, said Jeffrey Toobin in NewYorker.com. There are no safe answers to many of Mueller’s inquiries, including “What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing [Comey] had taken the pressure off?” The undisciplined Trump would almost certainly either commit perjury or incriminate himself. “Any sane lawyer would try at all costs to avoid putting a client in this kind of position.”
It’s time for Mueller to “stand down,” said Andrew McCarthy in NationalReview.com. No one is above the law, but the special counsel’s investigation is doing more harm than good by keeping the White House under a cloud of suspicion. Mueller’s open-ended questions indicate he has uncovered nothing that justifies hobbling an entire branch of the U.S. government. “Absent concrete evidence that the president has committed a serious crime, the checks on the president should be Congress and the ballot box.”
If Trump’s team thought the leaked questions would show “that Mueller really was on a witch hunt, they blew it,” said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. His lines of inquiry aren’t nosy, “free-ranging” questions about Trump’s business deals; they are studiously in line with Mueller’s mandate to investigate Russian election meddling and obstruction of justice. Trump could plead the Fifth to dodge a subpoena, but that would create the appearance of guilt. Then “it is fair to say his presidency will be over.”