Yesterday, the New York Times published the list of questions Bob Mueller wants to ask Trump. They range in style and substance. Some focus on Trump’s intent, a key component of obstruction of justice charges, whereas others focus on what Trump knew at specific points during the campaign, like whether Trump knew about campaign officials’ efforts to get Russian help during the campaign. The pundits, politicos, and legal experts have picked apart the questions themselves, but I’m more interested in the leak.
I think someone from the Trump team leaked it, which helps Trump and the Trump-o-sphere (Fox News, Devin Nunes, etc.) in two ways.
First, it underscores the severity of the investigation. Trump is well known to embellish, obfuscate, and generally not tell the truth. Questions like “What was the purpose of your February 14, 2017 meeting with James Comey, and what was said” or “Why did you hold Mr. Sessions resignation until May 31, 2017, and with whom did you discuss it” are likely to cause problems. If Trump lies, that’s a crime and one that Republicans in Congress feel very strongly about. Keep in mind that Bill Clinton wasn’t impeached for philandering. He was impeached for lying.
Second, leaking the list of questions helps Trump’s legal team make the case that they can submit the answers in writing. Per the New York Times, they already tried that and came to this list as a compromise for an in-person interview. But this helps them make the same case again, and in public. It’s easy to ignore the fact that the questions are meant to serve as a starting point for discussion. Mueller and team can dig into whatever direction they please.
The biggest threat to the Trump presidency is either A) an emboldened Democratic House and Senate that moves forward with impeachment and/or B) a face-to-face interview with quite possibly the best legal team in the country. Neither look good, but the Trump administration arguably has more control over the latter. Leaking the questions and having the media make the same case that Trump’s lawyers have been making to their client isn’t a bad strategy for our cable-television-obsessed-president. It might just save him for the time being.