Robert Mueller's proposed questions should make Donald Trump very nervous

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation began a year ago -- tasked with looking into Russian meddling in the 2...

Posted: May 1, 2018 2:38 PM
Updated: May 1, 2018 2:38 PM

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation began a year ago -- tasked with looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the possibility of officials in Donald Trump's campaign colluding with the Russians.

With the leak Monday night of nearly 50 questions Mueller would like to ask the President as part of the investigation, it's now clear that not only has the scope of Mueller's investigation widened significantly but also that Trump, at least in Mueller's mind, has a lot to explain about his own role in all of it. The language of the leaked questions, by the way, was written by Trump's legal team, but off a list of detailed topics Mueller's team said they would like to ask about.

The leak of Mueller's questions -- which should not be treated as the totality of what he wants to ask -- also lands at a moment in which the White House remains deeply divided about whether or not Trump should sit down for a face-to-face interview with Mueller before the investigation wraps up. Trump himself has at times voiced a willingness to voluntarily sit for an interview -- I explain why I think that is here -- but his legal team has been more skeptical. The leading voice in opposition to Trump granting an interview with Mueller -- John Dowd -- left Trump's legal team in March. CNN's most recent reporting is that he is leaning away from doing an interview since federal agents raided his attorney Michael Cohen's home, office and hotel room.

The sweep of questions that Mueller is seeking to ask Trump may change the President's mind about sitting for an interview with the special counsel.

Here's how New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt, who broke the story, described the nature of the questions:

"They deal chiefly with the president's high-profile firings of the F.B.I. director and his first national security adviser, his treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton."

Trump, via Twitter, immediately seized on the fact that the focus of Mueller's investigation didn't appear to be on his campaign colluding with the Russians.

"So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were 'leaked' to the media," he wrote. "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!"

He followed that tweet up with this one -- a variation on a theme: "It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!."

I'm no lawyer -- sorry Mom! -- but those tweets seem like Trump missing the forest for the trees. Trump seems to think that if he and his campaign are cleared of colluding with the Russians -- and we don't know whether or not that will happen -- then he is off the hook entirely. That is, um, not so.

Take Mueller's apparent focus on the firings of former FBI director James Comey and former national security adviser Michael Flynn and whether those amount an attempt to obstruct the investigation.

Remember that Trump's explanation on why he fired Comey has repeatedly shifted. He has said it was because of how Comey handled himself in the 2016 election. But he has also said that it had to do with "this Russia thing" in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt. And, Trump reportedly expressed relief to a group of Russian officials in the wake of firing Comey. "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job," Trump told the Russians. "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."

Trump could very easily be cleared of collusion -- the actual criminal activity would likely be conspiracy or obstruction -- with the Russians and found culpable of attempting to obstruct justice. Trump would have no way of knowing what Mueller knew -- or didn't know -- over the past year of the investigation. Meaning that Trump -- or someone in his inner circle -- could well have been working to throw roadblocks in front of the Mueller investigation because they simply didn't know what he would find and wanted to end and/or discredit the investigation before it got anywhere near where it is today.

Then there are these lines in the Schmidt story about other questions Mueller wants to ask Trump:

"They also touch on the president's businesses; any discussions with his longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, about a Moscow real estate deal; whether the president knew of any attempt by Mr. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to set up a back channel to Russia during the transition; any contacts he had with Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime adviser who claimed to have inside information about Democratic email hackings; and what happened during Mr. Trump's 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant."

That's a whole lot of ground. And it shows that Mueller is following the money. The connective tissue in all of those story lines is cash -- whether it's Trump's own, money moving through Michael Cohen or the financial dealings of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

It's not clear to me whether Trump's tweets this morning are motivated by a genuine belief that the leaked questions are somehow good for him because collusion is not the main focus or whether he simply doesn't understand that there are lots and lots of questions that Mueller wants to ask about that suggest major challenges ahead for the president and his team.

Regardless of why Trump thinks what he thinks, the main takeaway from the leaking of these questions is that the Mueller 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.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
Lauderdale11937314
Lowndes10934185
Lamar10470135
Pearl River9431237
Lafayette8454138
Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
Oktibbeha7111129
Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
Pontotoc6609101
Neshoba6606205
Panola6460131
Marshall6386132
Bolivar6266145
Union596094
Pike5784152
Alcorn5633101
Lincoln5417134
George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
Prentiss464181
Leflore4627143
Itawamba4596104
Adams4570119
Tate4546109
Copiah445191
Simpson4421116
Wayne438572
Yazoo438586
Covington427394
Marion4216107
Sunflower4215104
Coahoma4115104
Leake407787
Newton380879
Grenada3692108
Stone358464
Tishomingo356391
Attala330289
Jasper328265
Winston313191
Clay306375
Chickasaw296767
Clarke290694
Calhoun277945
Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
Montgomery179056
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 814025

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1140561910
Mobile722691323
Madison52017686
Shelby37304341
Baldwin37087540
Tuscaloosa34966599
Montgomery33971725
Lee23149240
Calhoun22159470
Morgan20659372
Etowah19764496
Marshall18254300
Houston17310405
St. Clair15921337
Cullman15325290
Limestone15222198
Elmore15086284
Lauderdale14157294
Talladega13723272
DeKalb12574259
Walker11089366
Blount10102174
Autauga9901146
Jackson9793180
Coffee9182189
Dale8864181
Colbert8791200
Tallapoosa7044195
Escambia6743127
Covington6685179
Chilton6592160
Russell626158
Franklin5935105
Chambers5560142
Marion4958126
Dallas4889199
Clarke473482
Pike4720105
Geneva4564126
Winston4476101
Lawrence4266117
Bibb421786
Barbour355675
Marengo334089
Monroe330462
Randolph327663
Butler324894
Pickens313982
Henry311265
Hale309487
Cherokee300057
Fayette290979
Washington251151
Cleburne247058
Crenshaw243775
Clay240767
Macon230762
Lamar217846
Conecuh185652
Coosa178838
Lowndes174161
Wilcox167738
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125844
Choctaw87027
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