Let me start this by saying that I really wonder if the New York Times is about to get a big egg sandwich on its face.
The newspaper reported today that it has obtained the list of questions special counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask President Trump. It’s a list of several dozen questions, which NYT has paraphrased here.
NYT states clearly that these are not the original questions, verbatim. They’re paraphrases of those questions, to which the Times has helpfully added explanatory context.
But looking through these questions, I have to think I’d have the same reaction to the originals that I have to the great majority of the paraphrased questions. Which is: what lawyer in his right mind would let his client answer such questions?
It’s as if they’re designed to elicit responses that can either (a) create new avenues for investigation out of thin air, or (b) be easily framed as false statements.
NYT says this, apparently with a straight face:
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.
Forget Trump’s lawyers. What prosecutor in his right mind would ask such things?
NYT goes on:
“What efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?” Mr. Mueller planned to ask, according to questions read by the special counsel investigators to the president’s lawyers, who compiled them into a list. That document was provided to The Times by a person outside Mr. Trump’s legal team.
I’d be pretty sure the president doesn’t have to take the Fifth to not answer that. It’s privileged, and he can just decline to. No court in the land would rule against such a response from him.
Here are samples of the questions (NYT has all of them at the link above. I’m using bold to set them off, following NYT’s style choice).
What was your reaction to news reports on Jan. 12, 2017, and Feb. 8-9, 2017?
After the resignations, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?
What did you think about Mr. Comey’s intelligence briefing on Jan. 6, 2017, about Russian election interference?
What did you know about the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017?
What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Coats?
Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?
What is the reason for your continued criticism of Mr. Comey and his former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe?
What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?
Between open-endedness, privilege, and sheer inanity, it’s hard to see the point of these questions. I seriously wonder if NYT has been had.
The questions about “Russian collusion” seem almost designed to imply that Mueller has a way to verify the truth or falsehood of the replies. I.e., if these are really his questions, he’s basically revealing that he’s got a raft of data on Trump’s communications, and he wants to see what Trump will say about things Mueller already knows the answer to.
During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?
What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?
What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
Meanwhile, there’s also the point that there is absolutely no implication of collusion attaching to a discussion of Russian sanctions by a presidential candidate. A lot of the “collusion” questions look like they’re just attempts to catch Trump in a misstatement, because there would be nothing wrong with his having discussed these topics, or his having knowledge of them.
If these are really Mueller’s questions, Congress needs to rethink that Senate Judiciary Committee vote to protect the Mueller investigation – because it has clearly gone off the rails. This is nothing but a naked fishing expedition.
If, that is, these are really Mueller’s questions.