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Forty-Nine Questions For The President

The New York Times' revelation of the questions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team potentially have for President Donald Trump provides insight into the scope of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion. Tanner Kenney reflects on the nature of these questions and potential blowback from the leak.


On late Monday night, April 30th, 2018, The New York Times obtained and published a list of 49 questions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller III and his team plan to ask President Donald Trump about his possible involvement in the alleged collusion with the Russian government prior to, during, and after the 2016 presidential election as well as his potential attempts to obstruct their investigation into the matter. The Mueller Probe has already elicited guilty pleas from several individuals, including former Trump Campaign aide Rick Gates.

The questions range from the President’s participation in conversations to obfuscate the nature of the meeting between his son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and agents of the Russian government at Trump Tower in 2016 to his private interactions with former FBI Director James Comey. They also include references to Trump’s attempts to publicly humiliate his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and pressure him to fire Mueller and/or end the investigation prematurely.

In examining the questions posited by Mueller’s team, it becomes clear that the Special Counsel is investigating President Trump’s mental state and motivations as much as it is the potential cooperation between the Russian government and Trump Campaign. Perhaps no other questions submitted is more illuminating of all these elements, combined, than, “What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?” as it is an encapsulation of the investigation into both intent and action.

But the most important question that the Special Counsel may now have, moving forward, could be – who leaked these questions to the Times? Former Mueller aide Michael Zeldin says it is obvious that the President is responsible for the release of these questions, and for several reasons. Primarily, the phrasing of and grammatical errors contained in the questions indicate they were not the product of a polished investigative team such as the Special Counsel’s and were, instead, contemporaneously memorialized by the representatives of a subject of the investigation.

Lastly, what is the purpose of releasing these questions? Perhaps the Trump Team decided to leak them, in the first place, to allow the President to personally frame their very existence

So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were “leaked” to the media. 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!” – Pres. Donald J. Trump, 6:47am, May 1st, 2018

This theory appears more valid when examining Trump’s sparse legal team and its most recent, high-profile acquisition – former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. No stranger to these types of investigations, himself, Giuliani has been accused of ‘leaking’ classified information or, at the very least, alluding to the existence of damaging, yet confidential, information regarding Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign in 2016.

However, this tactic has already backfired as it is plain to see that numerous questions relate to some sort of cooperation between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign and Transition, such as, “What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?” and, “What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?” as well as, “Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?”

The Special Counsel’s Investigation may be moving at a glacial pace, but these revelations indicate it will most certainly result in a fascinating outcome.

Tanner Kenney is an energy and media professional with a background in journalism and received his M.S. in Global Affairs, Environment & Energy Policy from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. Recently, Tanner has focused on the advocacy of sustainable development through renewable energy technologies, transportation efficiency, and inclusive public policy.

Photo Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images via NBC News

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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