Robert Mueller, then the FBI director but currently assigned as special counsel investigation the 2016 election, testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee June 13, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Mueller testified on the oversight of the FBI. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Trump declares the leak “disgraceful,” but at the moment all clues lead to this conclusion: It was probably Trump’s own legal team.
By Jon Queally / 05.01.2018
Did Trump’s own legal team leak the questions that the president is so upset about on Tuesday morning?
While it appeared that perhaps nobody ever told President Donald Trump the old adage of the cover up being worse than the crime, the president on Tuesday morning announced, “It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened!”
Capping the early-morning tweet off with his favorite new word—”Witchhunt!”—the statement follows reporting by the New York Times on Monday evening which revealed “more than four dozen questions” Special Counsel Robert Mueller had told Trump’s legal team it would like to ask Trump.
Read the full list of questions here.
As the Times reports:
The open-ended queries appear to be an attempt to penetrate the president’s thinking, to get at the motivation behind some of his most combative Twitter posts and to examine his relationships with his family and his closest advisers. They deal chiefly with the president’s high-profile firings of the F.B.I. director and his first national security adviser, his treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
But they also touch on the president’s businesses; any discussions with his longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, about a Moscow real estate deal; whether the president knew of any attempt by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to set up a back channel to Russia during the transition; any contacts he had with Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime adviser who claimed to have inside information about Democratic email hackings; and what happened during Mr. Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant.
According to the Times‘ Matt Appuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt, the list of questions “show the special counsel’s focus on obstruction of justice and touch on some surprising other areas.”
Appearing on the Rachel Maddow Show late Monday, Schmidt offered some of the background on the questions and how they materialized.
While the actual substance of the questions appeared to surprise few people who’ve followed the case closely, notable about the emergence of the questions, was the source of the leak. In an earlier tweet by Trump on Tuesday morning, the president called it “disgraceful” they had been leaked to the press.
But so far, all indications suggest that it was likely not Mueller’s office, but a member of Trump’s own legal team, or an associate, that disclosed the questions to the Times.
Mueller questions obtained by @NYTimes make clear Trump is focus of probe, though technically not yet a target. The 4 dozen questions were leaked by Trump or affiliates side — prosecutors who leak get their cases kicked. https://t.co/QZpzWtS0y7
— David Cay Johnston (@DavidCayJ) May 1, 2018
“It appears the leak did not come from Mueller’s office,” the Washington Post reported on Tuesday morning.
While Mueller’s investigation has team has so far proven adept at preventing leaks, this set of questions was reportedly generated by Mueller’s investigative team in conjunction with Trump’s lawyers during a process between the two camps. That fact, in turn, has prompted obvious questions about who exactly leaked them to the Times—and, more importantly why.
I hope NYT had an agreement with their source that if Trump started making the friendly leaking of them an excuse to start firing people they out their source.
But doubt that’s the case. NYT has repeatedly relished being a prop in Trump’s defense. https://t.co/NhALY226m8
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) May 1, 2018
As Margaret Hartmann, staff reporter for New York Magazine, writes:
The biggest mystery stemming from the questions is why we’re reading about them now. There was some initial speculation as to which side leaked them, but an accompanying Times piece explains the questions were “read by the special counsel investigators to the president’s lawyers, who compiled them into a list. That document was provided to the Times by a person outside Mr. Trump’s legal team.”
Times reporter Michael Schmidt elaborated on MSNBC, seeming to confirm that the document came from Trump’s side (which makes sense because Mueller’s team has not been known to leak).
According to Hartmann and other observers, the target of the leak could be both Trump himself—who has been in a relatively public battle with his lawyers over whether or not to sit for an “under oath” interview with Mueller’s team—or the public at large, who may be susceptible to the argument that Mueller’s questions go beyond the scope of his mandate.
This almost certainly comes from team Trump–current or past members. Why would they leak? Pure speculation but I think they need help in persuading Trump NOT to talk to Mueller, and are counting on the outcry. They may be afraid to oppose on own since Trump wants 2talk.
— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) May 1, 2018
Of course, writes Hartmann, “maybe it’s possible Mueller’s questions were leaked to accomplish multiple goals.”
And, she concludes, “Maybe the plan was to make [Fox News personality Sean Hannity] even angrier than usual, and let him convince Trump, his House allies, and other Fox News viewers that Mueller can’t be allowed to ask the president to explain himself.”