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Leaked List Of Questions Indicates What Mueller Wants To Ask Trump


The special counsel, Robert Mueller, has questions for President Trump. We have known that fact for quite some time, but we are learning this morning exactly 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 its investigation into attempted Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Now, Mueller's team has been pretty secretive as this investigation has gone on, and this list is giving us some rare insight into the focus of the inquiry. Let's bring in NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson to talk about this.

Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what are we learning here about what Mueller is interested in?

JOHNSON: Well, The New York Times says it's obtained a list of questions that came out of a meeting between the special counsel's office - Robert Mueller's office - and attorneys for President Trump, who are going back and forth about whether President Trump is actually going to sit for a voluntary interview with these prosecutors. And these questions The Times obtained fall into multiple buckets. A lot of them have to do with possible obstruction of justice - what President Trump knew when he fired that FBI director, James Comey, last year, what he knew about what Mike Flynn did or did not say to the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in late 2016 - and a number of other buckets of questions about Trump's involvement and relationships in Russia, a visit to Moscow that Trump made and some of his other dealings along the campaign with people like Paul Manafort. Paul Manafort, you'll remember, was the - for a short time, the campaign chairman of the Trump campaign. He's now facing a lot of charges, including bank fraud, tax fraud and conspiracy.

GREENE: Well, I just want to read one of the questions on this list, Carrie. According to The New York Times, Mueller wants to ask the president, what knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign? I mean, that sounds like at least Mueller remains very interested in the question of potential collusion and the question of how, if at all, the president was involved in that.

JOHNSON: Yeah. It sounds as if prosecutors may know something, either from documents or from cooperation from one of their witnesses who's pleaded guilty, maybe somebody like Richard Gates, who was Manafort right-hand man and wound up pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate against Manafort and others. The reason that question is so interesting, David, is that Manafort is charged with a lot of things related to his personal financial dealings. He denies wrongdoing, but he had a number of financial dealings with the pro-Russian government in Ukraine over the years. But he is not charged explicitly with any conspiracy with Russians in the course of the campaign, and so that question from the Mueller team that The Times has obtained offers us a window into whether there may be more there. We don't yet know in the public.

GREENE: Do we know if the president is ever going to be actually asked these questions by Mueller in a sit-down?

JOHNSON: (Laughter) That is such a good question. We've been going back and forth for weeks, if not months, about this. What lawyers have been telling me who are in the know, who have been in these kinds of situations before is that the special counsel could issue a subpoena to the president if he does not appear voluntarily. There are reasons to appear for a voluntary interview, like, you can somewhat control the questions, you can have your lawyer in the room. If you get a subpoena, you can't necessarily bring your lawyer into the grand jury room with you. So it may be in the president's interest to agree to a voluntary interview. I got to wonder, though, why this list of questions is leaking now and whether somebody may be trying to send the White House or the president himself a message here about whether he really wants to sit down and talk with the special counsel.

GREENE: Well, and that's really an interesting question is - and I was actually talking to Michael Schmidt, the reporter - one of the reporters who broke this story. You know, and he - I asked him, you know, if the leak of this could be benefiting one side or the other. You know, he didn't reveal much. He just said this - he - you know, that The Times feels like this is solid reporting; they wanted to get these facts out there. But do you get a sense for who might gain by these questions being out here in public now?

JOHNSON: This is such a tangled mix of motives, this entire investigation. What we do know is the special counsel and the agents and lawyers working with him tend not to leak. In fact, Robert Mueller is a stickler about those kinds of things, so it seems as if this may be coming from the defense side. What motive we can subscribe to it, I don't think we yet know.

GREENE: OK. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson speaking to us this morning about a New York Times story. The Times has obtained a list of questions that special counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask President Trump. Carrie, we appreciate it. Thanks.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.