Trump blasts leak of questions he could face in Russia probe

As negotiations continue over whether Trump will sit for an interview, the New York Times obtained a lengthy list of questions Mueller and his team have prepared for the president.

US President Donald Trump. Picture: AFP

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump on Tuesday criticised the leak of more than 40 questions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask him as part of a probe into Russia’s alleged election meddling and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

As negotiations continue over whether Trump will sit for an interview, the New York Times obtained a lengthy list of questions Mueller and his team have prepared for the president.

“So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were ‘leaked’ to the media. No questions on Collusion,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened!”

Mueller’s investigators read the questions to Trump’s lawyers who compiled them into a list, the New York Times reported on Monday. The newspaper said it obtained the document from a person outside Trump’s legal team.

Trump’s lawyers met with Mueller last week to discuss a possible interview with the president, according to the Wall Street Journal, which also reported on the potential queries.

Representatives for the Mueller’s office declined to comment and Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, also had no comment. Reuters could not confirm the published accounts.

The list of at least four dozen questions includes ones on Trump’s ties to Russia and others to determine whether the president may have unlawfully tried to obstruct the investigation, the Times reported.

Savannah Law School professor Andrew Wright, who served in President Barack Obama’s White House, said it was difficult to know who would have leaked the questions and why.

“It’s hard for me to imagine it’s coming from Mueller’s team. And it’s kind of a ham-handed effort if it’s someone who’s trying to help the president,” he said.

Russia has denied interfering in the 2016 US presidential election, as US intelligence agencies allege, and Trump has denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

Most of the questions relate to possible obstruction of justice, the reports said.

While the questions do not explicitly cite “collusion,” they do address what the president knew about hacking by Russia, its use of social media and “other acts aimed at the campaign,” the Times said.

MANAFORT TARGETS POSSIBLE LEAKS

“What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?,” one question asked, referring to Trump’s former campaign manager, according to the Times.

Manafort faces charges in two federal courts that include conspiracy to launder money, failure to register as a foreign agent when he lobbied for the pro-Russia Ukraine government, bank fraud and tax fraud.

Late on Monday, Manafort’s lawyers asked a federal judge in Virginia to hear arguments later this month on whether prosecutors in Mueller’s office may have leaked classified and other secret materials about the case to the media.

On Friday, Manafort’s lawyers will ask the judge to dismiss the indictment in that court on the grounds that the scope of Mueller’s probe is excessive.

Mueller’s list also included inquiries about Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey, who headed the Russia investigation before he was dismissed in May 2017, and the resignation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the Times reported.

Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during his interview as part of Mueller’s probe.

According to an article in the New York Times, the questions fall into categories based on four broad subjects. They are not quoted verbatim, and some were condensed.

Questions related to Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser:

• What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?

These questions revolve around whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice to protect Mr. Flynn from prosecution. His phone calls with Mr. Kislyak are at the heart of that inquiry.

During the calls, Mr. Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to sanctions just announced by the Obama administration. But Mr. Trump’s aides publicly denied that sanctions were discussed and, when questioned by the F.B.I., Mr. Flynn denied it, as well. Mr. Mueller wants to know whether Mr. Flynn was operating on Mr. Trump’s behalf. Prosecutors may already know the answer: Mr. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying and is cooperating with investigators.

• What was your reaction to news reports on 12 January, 2017, and 8-9 February, 2017?

In January, the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius revealed Mr. Flynn’s phone calls with Mr. Kislyak. Mr. Ignatius questioned whether those conversations had violated a law prohibiting private citizens from attempting to undermine American policies. In February, The Washington Post revealed the true nature of Mr. Flynn’s conversations with Mr. Kislyak.

Mr. Mueller wants to know, among other things, whether Mr. Trump feared that his national security adviser had broken the law and then tried to shield him from consequences.

• What did you know about Sally Yates’s meetings about Mr. Flynn?

Ms. Yates, the acting attorney general for the first weeks of the Trump administration, twice warned the White House that Mr. Flynn was lying, and those lies made him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. No one from the White House has ever said how much Mr. Trump knew about those warnings.

• How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on 13 February, 2017?

Eighteen days after Ms. Yates’s warning, Mr. Flynn was asked to resign. The White House said that Mr. Trump lost confidence in Mr. Flynn because he had lied. But the White House has never fully explained why, after learning about the lie, officials waited so long to act.

• After the resignations, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?

The Times recently revealed that, when Mr. Flynn began considering cooperating with the FBI, Mr. Trump’s lawyers floated the idea of a pardon. Mr. Mueller wants to know why.