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Why is Trump Surprised by Questions?

Terry H. Schwadron

May 3, 2018

Of all the comments, about questions that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III may have for President Trump in an on-oath interviews, the only one I don’t understand is the president’s.

President Trump tweeted his outrage that the questions were leaked to The New York Times. OK, I understand he doesn’t like leaks (even if they seem to be from his own team), and he hates anything that looks as if it is bad news.

Better get used to it, I guess, because yesterday’s disclosures by Rudy Giuliani of payments on Trump’s behalf to adult movie actor Stormy Daniels will probably add to the list of questions, if not directly from Mueller.

Early Tuesday, Trump tweeted that the leak of Mr. Mueller’s questions was “disgraceful” and that “it would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened!”

Acknowledging that the tweet is wrong — obstruction of justice is a crime by itself — we’ve all known for months that one way or another, Mueller is going to confront Trump with questions.

And amid all the endless talk about the nature of the inquiries that have become public, nothing erases that basic truth here: These are the list of questions, in the main, that everyone, including the president, have been bantering about for more than a year. Basically, they are among the questions I would ask the president — though I’d have closer to 400 than 40.

What did you have in mind when . . . you, Mr. President, had the Republican campaign plank identifying Russians as foes watered down at the convention, or had James Comey fired as FBI director, or knew about what Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser or your son-in-law and whisperer Jared Kushner was doing by setting up back channels to the Russians.

The list goes on and on, somewhere between 40 and 50 general topics to which Trump owes on-the-record responses and that, frankly, mask the depth of information that Mueller actually holds in his deck of investigative cards. Like any good lawyer, we probably credibly can believe that Mueller is not asking anything for which he does not already have a fistful of evidence.

Jennifer Rubin, the “Right Turn” columnist for The Washington Post grabbed my own thinking: Why does the president think he has a choice about whether to face questioning? “Mueller isn’t going to give Trump a pass,” she said.

The New York Times editorialized, for example, that the 49 questions suggest that Mueller knows a great deal more than he’s letting on — and he hasn’t even gotten to the follow-ups yet. “Federal investigators don’t like being lied to, and Mr. Trump has a marked tendency to say things that aren’t true. If he agrees to speak with Mr. Mueller’s team, he will have to answer some very basic questions about what he knew, when he knew it and what motivated some of his most shocking and inexplicable actions over the past year,” said The Times’ editorial.

The Washington Post editorialized that “It is unclear who leaked a list of questions that (Mueller) wants to ask President Trump. One possibility is that someone is seeking to ensure that, whatever happens to Mueller’s investigation, the president is forced to confront them. If so, we are in agreement: Under oath or not, Trump owes the country answers.”

The Post added that the questions did come about in discussions with Trump’s lawyers, whose membership changed again yesterday, to bring in Emmett Flood for Ty Cobb, hint that the special counsel has uncovered bad behavior on the part of close Trump confidants that is not publicly known.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are starting a backfire, preparing impeachment papers for Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod J. Rosenstein, who actually legally oversees the Russia investigation. That effort may not go anywhere in Congress, but it sure is indicative of the larger political context in which this coming Trump-Mueller showdown will take place.

Each will have a big job to do in persuading the general public that all of this matters, that everyone, including President Trump, is subject to law, that crimes need to be investigated, even if they lead to the White House. While the president himself may be protected from indictment while in office, his legally questionable behavior in the campaign and in the White House needs to be aired.

Even Trump believes that. Otherwise he wouldn’t keep harping on ending the “witch hunt” that has beset his presidency, actions that the Post editorial referred to as “ some of his most shocking and inexplicable actions over the past year.”

It does seem crucial to know why Trump triedto persuade the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to protect him from the investigation, whether and why he secretly promised to pardon Flynn, and whether and why he sought to mislead on explanations of the July, 2016 meeting with Russian operatives in Trump Tower.

“The questions are a reminder of just how aberrant this White House has been. No prior president so openly assaulted the rule of law or undermined the integrity of the law enforcement community. In that light, Mr. Mueller’s questions also provide a measure of comfort that, amid all the chaos and tumult of this administration, career public servants in law enforcement continue to do their jobs, investigating crimes and pursuing justice.

“It may unnerve Mr. Trump, who has spent his life skirting the law and avoiding full accountability, but this is how the law works. Without saying a word publicly, Mr. Mueller and his team of experienced investigators are showing America how a government premised on the rule of law is supposed to function. The process may seem slow, but that is out of diligence and caution. Its fundamental purpose is truth-seeking — unlike, say, the embarrassing obfuscations of the Republican leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, who last week absolved Mr. Trump and his campaign of any wrongdoing in a 250-page report that reads more like a work of fantasy than a government investigation,” read the Times editorial.

The focus yesterday had turned to whether Trump will simply refuse to cooperation, almost certainly prompting a subpoena and grand jury appearance without legal representation.

They should consider televising that otherwise secret session. Trump might like the good ratings it would get.


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