The New York Times recently obtained a list of questions that were provided to President Donald Trump’s lawyers from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The questions show the special counsel’s focus on obstruction of justice, as well as other somewhat surprising areas.
The questions below are condensed.
“What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?”
This revolves around whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice to protect former National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn from prosecution. During the calls, Flynn allegedly urged Russia not to overreact to sanctions just announced by the Obama administration.
“What was your reaction to news reports on Jan. 12, 2017, and Feb. 8-9, 2017?”
In January, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius revealed Flynn’s phone calls with Kislyak, causing Ignatius to question whether those conversations had violated a law prohibiting private citizens from attempting to undermine American policies.
“What did you know about Sally Yates’s meetings about Mr. Flynn?”
Yates was the acting attorney general for the first few weeks of the Trump administration. She also warned White House officials Mr. Flynn was providing false information about the aforementioned calls and alleged back channels with the Russians.
“How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017?”
Flynn was asked to resign his post 18 days following the warning from Yates. President Trump explained that he had “lost confidence” in Flynn after it was found that he was lying.
“After the resignations, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?”
Through a recent report by the New York Times, Flynn considered cooperating with FBI investigators following a rumor that Trump would pardon him.
“What was your opinion of Mr. Comey during the transition?”
Former FBI Director James Comey was fired by President Trump after mishandling the investigation of former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Mueller and his team want to know if the firing was, in any way, to protect Flynn.
“What did you think about Mr. Comey’s intelligence briefing on Jan. 6, 2017, about Russian election interference?”
The briefing reportedly revealed that American intelligence agencies found that “Russian operatives” meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
“What was your reaction to Mr. Comey’s briefing that day about other intelligence matters?”
This addresses the dossier written by retired British spy, Christopher Steele, who said that Russia had gathered compromising information on President Trump. Though, it was not revealed that the dossier was reportedly paid by Perkins Coie, an opposition research firm used by the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
“What was the purpose of your Jan. 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said?”
A few weeks after his briefing, Comey was called to the White House for a private dinner with the president. Comey’s notes, which were later leaked, said that Trump raised concerns about the dossier and claimed he needed “loyalty” from the FBI director.
“What was the purpose of your Feb. 14, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said?”
Comey testified to Mueller that the president told him, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Nevertheless, Trump has since denied the remarks.
“What did you know about the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017?”
Comey’s testimony publicly confirmed that the FBI was investigating members of the Trump campaign for possible coordination with Russia, including Carter Page. Mueller wants to know if that played into Trump’s firing of the FBI director.
“What did you do in reaction to the March 20 testimony? Describe your contacts with intelligence officials.”
Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, to pressure Comey to back off his investigation.
“What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Coats?”
Mueller is highly interested in Trump’s response in the steps of the investigation with Coats, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and National Security Agency (NSA) Director Mike Rogers.
“What was the purpose of your calls to Mr. Comey on March 30 and April 11, 2017?”
Comey said that Trump called twice to ask him to say publicly that he was not under
FBI investigation. In the second call, Comey said, the president added: “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal. We had that thing, you know.”
“What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?”
The White House said Comey was fired for breaking Department of Justice (DOJ) policy and discussing the Clinton investigation, but Trump expressed a difference in an interview with Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo. Trump said, “Director Comey was very, very good to Hillary Clinton, that I can tell you.” He added, “If he weren’t, she would be, right now, going to trial.”
“What did you think and do about Mr. Comey’s May 3, 2017, testimony?”
Appearing before the Senate, Comey described his handling of the Clinton investigation in detail, leading to his firing.
“Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?”
Over the past several months, Mueller has repeatedly asked White House officials for the back story and whether justification was accurate.
“What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?”
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job…I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” This was said by the president the day after Comey’s firing while he met with Russian officials in the Oval Office.
“What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?”
Shortly after firing Comey, Trump appeared on NBC News with Lester Holt and reportedly “undercut” his own argument about the Russia investigation.
“I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself – I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won,” Trump said.
Comey appeared unworried afterwards. “Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said. However, the White House confirmed there were no tapes.
“What did you think about Mr. Comey’s June 8, 2017, testimony regarding Mr. Flynn, and what did you do about it?”
After he was fired, Comey testified about his conversations with Trump and described him as “preoccupied” with the Russia investigation. After the testimony, Trump called him a liar.
“What was the purpose of the September and October 2017 statements, including tweets, regarding an investigation of Mr. Comey?”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders said that Comey had testified falsely to Congress, suggesting that the DOJ might investigate. The president followed up with tweets suggesting that Comey should be investigated for rigging an inquiry into former nominee Clinton.
“What is the reason for your continued criticism of Mr. Comey and his former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe?”
Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe were the top targets of the president in public and on social media. Nevertheless, the politicization was not the only thing occurring after Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a criminal referral to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. regarding its recent reports claiming that McCabe lied under oath about the disclosure of sensitive information to reporters, last week.
Horowitz sent a department report to Congress, reportedly “blasting” the former law enforcement official. The report states that McCabe, “inappropriately authorized the disclosure of sensitive information to the media, then lied repeatedly to investigators examining the matter.” He even criticized others for the FBI leak for which he is now being investigated.
“What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was met with criticism from the president after his recusal from the Russia investigation. Afterwards, Sessions submitted his resignation, but Trump did not accept it.
“What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind?”
Reportedly, President Trump told his White House counsel, Donald McGahn, to stop Sessions from recusing himself. McGahn was unsuccessful, leaving Trump wishing for an attorney general who would “protect” him.
“Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?”
Trump has spoken affectionately about past attorneys general who he said were loyal to their presidents. He cited Robert F. Kennedy and Eric Holder as examples. “Holder protected the president,” he said in a New York Times interview in December. “And I have great respect for that.”
“What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?”
Mueller’s appointment itself has become part of his investigation. Trump has repeatedly denounced the inquiry as a “witch hunt.”
Nevertheless, as the tale of the “missing texts” unfolded, Mueller’s investigation into the president may be compromised. Horowitz sent a letter to Congress in January claiming the DOJ had located the missing messages sent between Peter Strzok, the Chief of the Counterespionage Section during the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server, and Lisa Page, Strzok’s mistress and a trial attorney on Mueller’s team.
“Why did you hold Mr. Sessions’s resignation until May 31, 2017, and with whom did you discuss it?”
President Trump rejected Sessions’s resignation after aides argued that it would only create more problems.
“What discussions did you have with Reince Priebus in July 2017 about obtaining the Sessions resignation? With whom did you discuss it?”
Priebus, the president’s first chief of staff, has said he “raced out” of the White House after Sessions and implored him not to resign.
“What discussions did you have regarding terminating the special counsel, and what did you do when that consideration was reported in January 2018?”
Once again, Mueller’s investigation intersects with its own existence. In June of last year, Trump reportedly ordered McGahn to fire Mueller; however, McGahn refused. Trump’s advisers informed Mueller about that effort, but the president Trump denied it.
“What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions?”
Trump unleashed a series of attacks on Sessions in July after his recusal from the Russia investigation.
“When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?”
This question relates to a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who offered political “dirt” about Clinton, which has been also said to be a meeting about adoption of Russia children in America. Donald Trump Jr. arranged the meeting. He said he did not tell his father about it when it happened.
“What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?”
The New York Times reported that when the publication found out about the meeting, President Trump helped draft a misleading statement in his son’s name, omitting the true purpose of the meeting.
“During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?”
The Trump Tower meeting was arranged through, “Russian singer Emin Agalarov, his billionaire father, Aras Agalarov, and a music promoter.” Mueller is scrutinizing the nature of connections between the Agalarovs, Trump, and subsequent Russian officials.
“What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?”
Mueller is referring to a failed effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Felix Sater is an American real estate developer and former managing director of Bayrock Group LLC, a real estate conglomerate based out of New York City. He reportedly proposed the idea to Cohen, the longtime personal lawyer to Trump. Emails obtained by the media show that Sater believed that the project would showcase Trump’s deal-making prowess and propel him into the presidency.
“What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?”
Some journalists and lawmakers have “uncovered” examples of Russian officials using intermediaries to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Senior campaign officials have rejected the revelations.
“What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?”
In March, President Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russians diplomats and their families from the U.S. as tensions between the White House and Kremlin increased after numerous ploys to infiltrate domestic systems and meddling with Western allies.
“What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?”
In August 2017, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis confirmed that he and the Trump Administration favored providing “defensive weapons” to the former Soviet republic.
“During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?”
Trump praised the release of hacked Democratic emails from the DNC and “called on” Russia to find others. Mueller’s investigation has unearthed evidence that George Papadopoulos, a member of the foreign policy advisory panel to the president’s campaign, was told that Russia had obtained compromising emails about Clinton. Nevertheless, Trump has repeatedly said there was no collusion with the Russian government.
“What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?”
The former campaign chairman has been one of the most vicious targeted people during the Mueller investigation, including an early morning FBI raid on his Northern Virginia home. However, there is no publicly available information linking Manafort to such outreach.
“What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?”
The longtime political adviser claimed to have inside information from WikiLeaks, which published hacked Democratic emails. He appeared to predict future releases, and was in touch with a Twitter account used by Russian intelligence.
“What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?”
Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, has testified that the Russian ambassador proposed getting Flynn in contact with Russian officials to discuss policy surrounding Syria. In response, Kushner reportedly said he proposed using secure phones inside the Russian Embassy – an unusual suggestion that was not accepted.
“What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?”
The meeting was convened by Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates. It brought Prince, an informal adviser toTrump’s team and founder of Blackwater USA, now known as Academi, together with a Russian investor close to Putin.
“What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?”
Cohen hand-delivered to the White House a peace proposal for Ukraine and Russia. Though, he did not discuss the proposal with President Trump.