Special Counsel Robert Mueller Has A List Of Questions For President Trump
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Special counsel Robert Mueller has questions for President Trump. That much we have known for a while. But today, we are learning just what Mueller wants to know. The New York Times obtained a list of questions that the special counsel wants to ask the president as part of the investigation into attempted Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Mueller's team has been notably secretive in the course of its investigation, and this list gives us a rare insight into the focus of the counsel's inquiry. Here to discuss this is Michael Schmidt, who helped break this story for The New York Times.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.
GREENE: So what does Mueller want to know?
SCHMIDT: Mueller wants to question the president about sort of four main areas, many of them not surprising - firing of Comey, firing of Mike Flynn, what happened around Mike Flynn as former national security adviser who was in touch with the Russians during the transition, wants to question him about his relation - the president's relationship with Jeff Sessions, his attorney general - very fraught relationship there. The president has asked him to resign, has tried to get him to resign, and has been obsessed with the loyalty of Sessions and Sessions' decision to recuse himself. And then, finally, questions about Russia - what did the president know about hacked emails? Did he know anything was going to be coming out during the campaign? Did the president discuss meeting Vladimir Putin during the campaign? Who are president's other associates that he may know in Russia - his 2013 trip there for a Miss America pageant. So it sort of covers the gambit. And it's not entirely surprising in and of itself, but it's sort of stark to see all of these questions laid out.
GREENE: Yeah, written out. I want to drill down on one of the questions that I think you described as tantalizing in your piece. Mueller wants to ask the president this. What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign? And that was - that's the end of the question. Paul Manafort, of course, was running the Trump campaign. That sounds like the special counsel is being very specific about wanting know - to know if the president knew about some sort of collusion.
SCHMIDT: Yeah, that sort of caught us by surprise. A lot of things in this document were not surprising. That was certainly one of them. What was it that was leading the special counsel to ask that question? Unfortunately, we don't really know. All we know - what was in the document. And to understand this document, the president's lawyers went in and met with the special counsel's office in March. The special counsel's office was going to give them a idea to give them a head start on what the questions would be for an interview, and it was - they listed off all of these different topics. The president's lawyers took them down and created these 49 questions that they knew Mueller wanted to ask the president. That is what is in this document.
GREENE: Do you have a better idea now, reporting on this long list of questions, what might be the president's biggest potential legal liability as of now?
SCHMIDT: You know, I - and, you know, who knows? Who knows? I mean, he may not have any legal liability. We just don't know. These are just the questions that Mueller is looking at. I think the important point here to understand, though, is that three-fourths of these - two-thirds to three-fourths - certainly more than half of these questions - are about the issue of obstruction. And this is an investigation, an FBI investigation that started nearly two years ago looking at Russia's efforts to influence the election, ties between Trump's campaign and Russia. Here we are, 15 months into the president's time in office, and there are a lot of questions that have piled up about the way he has pulled the levers of power, what he has done as president, and that is the sort of thrust of these questions. Why was it that he wanted to get rid of Comey? Did he have other intentions? Their questions are designed to try and get inside the president's mindset to see why he was doing the things he was doing and what was motivating him.
GREENE: Lastly, Michael, I just have to ask you something I would ask anytime there's anonymous sourcing on such a big story. I mean, did you consider who might be benefiting from this being out there, whether it's the president, his allies, whether it's the special counsel?
SCHMIDT: You know, folks that are connected to this story have all sorts of motivations to speak. It's our job to find information that was believed to be truthful and is worthy, and put it out there and let the public decide whether it is something that - you know, how they feel or view it or whether they think it's relevant or not. We are simply out there just following the facts, digging up as much as we can and putting the things that we believe to be true out there to tell this story, to give it context. Not every story is a salacious one where we reveal entirely new things. In this case, we're just sort of giving the idea of what the president may be asked.
GREENE: All right, Michael Schmidt, reporter for The New York Times. Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.