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What Does The List Of Questions Mueller Has For Trump Mean?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump is eager for special counsel Robert Mueller to end his investigation into Russian election meddling. The president has called the investigation a witch hunt. But he's also said he would be happy to sit down with Mueller. And this morning, we are learning just what the president could be asked. The New York Times obtained a list of questions that the special counsel wants to ask Trump. There are nearly 50 of them. And to try and understand how meaningful this is, let's bring in Renato Mariotti. He's a former federal prosecutor, also recently ran as a Democratic candidate to be Illinois attorney general.

Welcome back to the program.

RENATO MARIOTTI: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So on this long list of questions, there are some familiar names - former FBI Director James Comey and questions about his firing and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, questions about the Trump Tower meeting. So what, if anything, is new here?

MARIOTTI: Well, there's not too much that's new. There's one question that is really out of left field based upon what we've heard publicly. And that's a question about what the president knew regarding Paul Manafort reaching out to the Russians about possible assistance in the campaign. That's something that has not been reported before. But, you know, there's - what? - 50 questions here. And all the rest of them relate to topics that have been discussed publicly. And if I was on the president's team, I would be relieved that there isn't a lot here that's unexpected.

GREENE: Well, let's focus on that one question you mentioned. And I just want to read it here. The question that Mueller would want to ask the president is this - what knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign? Manafort, of course, the former campaign chairman. So what do you make of that? Is Mueller trying to see if there was any collusion and if the president may have been involved if there was?

MARIOTTI: Yeah, that appears to be exactly what Mueller is interested in there. And you know, typically, questions like that - you know, every other question relates to something that we know about, that there's been some reporting on, that there's been discussion about. So you have to believe that Mueller has some evidence regarding this as well. And that's pretty important. I mean, what it suggests - you know, what we've seen thus far in the public reporting has been efforts by the Russians to make communication with the campaign, either directly or, recently, through the NRA. And here, you have the campaign making the entree to the Russian government.

GREENE: You said something that really struck my ear there, that probably Mueller has some sort of evidence. You're saying that if you are a lawyer and you're asking a question like this, it's not just something that would come to your mind out of curiosity. He actually has some level of reason to believe that maybe Paul Manafort had had some kind of contact with the Russians.

MARIOTTI: That's right. I mean, typically, a prosecutor is not going to be asking questions out of left field, unrelated to topics that he's investigating. And certainly here - I mean, the context of these questions is that Mueller's team discussed with the president's team in advance some of the topics and questions that they were going to ask about in order to provide some assurance to the president, you know, that the topics would be limited in order to kind of, you know, get him to agree to an interview. So you have to think that they're being very thoughtful and careful about the questions that they're asking and they're not going to ask questions that don't relate to something important that they're investigating.

GREENE: But you're saying, broadly, that the president and his legal team are probably feeling a sense of relief this morning. Say more about why that would be.

MARIOTTI: Well, in other words, you could imagine that a set of 50 questions that were on all sorts of topics that we just knew nothing about - you know, particular business deals or, you know, events that had not yet been reported. Now, obviously, this leak is almost certainly from Trump's team. But when they got these questions initially, before they were made available to the rest of us via The New York Times, they had to think - OK, you know, this is the universe that we might have already expected Mueller to be looking at.

And to be sure, many of these questions - the vast majority of them relate to obstruction of justice, which I think, you know, any competent lawyer would see is very much an area that the president has significant liability. So that couldn't have come as a surprise either.

GREENE: OK, speaking to former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti this morning about the list of questions that the special counsel wants to ask the president as revealed by The New York Times this morning.

We appreciate your time. Thanks.

MARIOTTI: No problem. Have a good one. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: May 1, 2018 at 12:00 AM EDT
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti is the guest for this interview. A previous Web summary listed Nick Akerman.