A lengthy list of questions for President Trump from special counsel Robert Mueller has been leaked to The New York Times, marking the latest in a string of apparently deliberate disclosures from the ongoing probe into Russian involvement in the U.S. presidential election.
The paper, saying only that it had “obtained” the questions without specifying how, called some of the questions “tantalizing” and suggested they reveal that Mueller may have uncovered pre-election outreach by Trump’s campaign to Russian officials.
The questions also reportedly cover Trump’s motivations for firing FBI Director James Comey a year ago, as well as his reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation.
In one question obtained by the Times, Mueller asks what Trump knew about campaign staff, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, reaching out to Moscow.
Leaks in the Mueller probe have been suspected for several months, leading The New York Post to ask last year if Mueller is “playing politics with his prosecutions.”
The news of the indictments of Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, for example, came in media reports days in advance. Although some commentators have praised Mueller for clamping down on leaks, Republicans have sharply criticized the disclosures seemingly coming from within Mueller’s ranks.
Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, the leader of the House’s top investigative committee, slammed Mueller in October for allowing the news media to learn that he and his legal team had charges in their Russia investigation.
“In the only conversation I’ve had with Robert Mueller, I stressed to him the importance of cutting out the leaks,” Gowdy, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told “Fox News Sunday.” “It’s kind of ironic that the people charged with investigating the law and the violations of the law would violate the law.”
Although Mueller’s team has indicated to Trump’s lawyers that he’s not considered a target, investigators remain interested in whether the president’s actions constitute obstruction of justice and want to interview him about several episodes in office. The lawyers want to resolve the investigation as quickly as possible, but there’s no agreement on how to do that.
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow declined to comment to The Associated Press on Monday night, as did White House lawyer Ty Cobb.
Mueller has brought several charges against Manafort, but none are for any crimes related to Russian election interference during the 2016 campaign. And he has denied having anything to do with such an effort.
“It’s kind of ironic that the people charged with investigating the law and the violations of the law would violate the law.”
The queries also touch on Trump’s businesses and his discussions with his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, about a possible Moscow real estate deal. Cohen’s business dealings are part of a separate FBI investigation.
One question asks what discussions Trump may have had regarding “any meeting with Mr. Putin,” referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another question asks what the president may have known about a possible attempt by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to set up a back channel with Russia before Trump’s inauguration.
Additional questions center on Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his discussions on sanctions against Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition. Flynn is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigators.
“What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?” reads one question. Another asks if there were any efforts to reach out to Flynn “about seeking immunity or possible pardon.”
Flynn was fired Feb. 13, 2017, after White House officials said he had misled them about his Russian contacts during the transition period by saying that he had not discussed sanctions.
The following day, according to memos written by Comey, Trump cleared the Oval Office of other officials and encouraged Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.