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Ten Questions Bob Mueller Should Ask Trump

First there were reports that Trump would sit for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Then Trump prevaricated and said in an interview was “unlikely.” Interview or not, sooner or later the president is going to have to answer some questions.

January 11, 2018

“The abso­lute last thing I want to do in my life is be sitting next to Donald Trump being ques­tioned by the special coun­sel.” 

—Anonym­ous lawyer famil­iar with the Mueller invest­ig­a­tion to New York magazine.

Although the New Year dawned with reports that Pres­id­ent Trump would sit for an inter­view with Special Coun­sel Robert Mueller, Trump later seemed to throw cold water on these accounts saying, “When they have no collu­sion … it seems unlikely that you’d even have an inter­view.”

As usual, Trump is obsessed with the notion of “collu­sion.” Mean­while, there are other crimes Mueller might be inter­ested in, such as obstruc­tion of justice. And always remem­ber that things change quickly Trump­land. Only 48 hours ago, someone “close to the pres­id­ent” told The Wash­ing­ton Post  that Trump was eager to sit down with the special coun­sel. He “is comfort­able parti­cip­at­ing in an inter­view and believes it would put to rest ques­tions about whether his campaign coordin­ated with Russia in the 2016 elec­tion.”

But, as New York noted, “No lawyer worth his salt or her salt would let a client like Trump be inter­viewed.” Espe­cially by a first-rate lawman/prosec­utor who once led the FBI.  The record shows that Trump is a walk­ing, talk­ing lying machine. In his first 100 days in office, The Wash­ing­ton Post found he made an aver­age of 4.9 false or mislead­ing claims per day. And that was only what he said in public. In a depos­ition in an unsuc­cess­ful libel suit he brought in 2007, “Trump had to acknow­ledge 30 times during that depos­ition that he had lied over the years about a wide range of issues…

It seems every lawyer falls into one of two camps: the ones who want to do the ques­tion­ing and the ones who want to be a fly on the wall. As a former Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee staffer who worked on the Clin­ton impeach­ment trial, I’m the sort who wants to ask the ques­tions.

Not that he needs them, but here are some sugges­ted ques­tions for Mueller to ask:

1. Did you bring a copy of your tax returns for the last 10 years? No? Not a prob­lem. We’ve got them. Is that your signa­ture there?

Trump is the only Pres­id­ent in modern memory to refuse to release his tax returns.

During the pres­id­en­tial debates, Hilary Clin­ton put her finger on four possible reas­ons why. They show that he is not as rich as he claims, he does not give to char­ity, he’s deeply in hock to foreign interests, or he simply does­n’t pay any taxes. Or all of the above.

One year into his pres­id­ency, Trump’s tax returns are a modern-day treas­ure of the Sierra Madre, luring every­one from conspir­acy theor­ists to hard-nosed report­ers. Mueller and his team prob­ably are among the only people on earth who have actu­ally seen whether the mine is full of gold or slag. They’re going to dig in with the Pres­id­ent.

2. In 2008, your eldest son Donald Trump, Jr., told a real estate trade public­a­tion, “Russi­ans make up a pretty dispro­por­tion­ate cross-section of a lot of our asset­s…We see a lot of money pour­ing in from Russia.” Was he telling the truth?

By the way, in the same inter­view your son said, “I really prefer Moscow over all cities in the world.” Have you discussed why he prefers Moscow to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., or any U.S. city?

Lately however, Papa Trump has taken to deny­ing any finan­cial involve­ment with Russia.

This is patently false. Trump has long sought money from Russi­ans. He was actively seek­ing deals in Moscow in 2015 and 2016. And he has often sold real estate in the U.S. to Russi­ans. In Miami alone, 63 people with Russian pass­ports or addresses spent almost $100 million at Trump devel­op­ments accord­ing to a Reuters invest­ig­a­tion.

There is noth­ing wrong per se with doing busi­ness in Russia or with Russi­ans. But there are legal risks. One is money laun­der­ing. Accord­ing to a 2017 State Depart­ment report, “Offi­cial corrup­tion remains a prob­lem at all levels of [Russian] govern­ment and is a major source of laundered funds….Crim­in­als invest in and laun­der their proceeds through secur­it­ies instru­ments, e-curren­cies, precious metals, domestic and foreign real estate, and luxury consumer goods.”

Until mid-2016, when Trump became the Repub­lican pres­id­en­tial nominee, his finan­cial expos­ure to Russian interests were not a matter of national secur­ity. But since then, they have been. Know­ing the extent of his finan­cial and legal vulner­ab­il­ity to Russian interests is crit­ical. 

3. In a March 2017 Forbes inter­view your son Eric Trump said he would supply reports on your busi­ness interests perhaps as frequently as every 90 days. What, exactly, is your ongo­ing involve­ment with your busi­ness?

Trump’s finan­cial involve­ment with Russia did not end the day he took the oath of office. He contin­ues to own his compan­ies and main­tains the right to draw as much money from them as he wants whenever he wants. His busi­nesses seem to be suffer­ing. As Forbes noted in Octo­ber when it released its list of the 400 richest Amer­ic­ans:

The most notable loser was Pres­id­ent Donald Trump, whose fortune fell $600 million to $3.1 billion. A tough New York real estate market, partic­u­larly for retail loca­tions; a costly lawsuit and an expens­ive pres­id­en­tial campaign all contrib­uted to the declin­ing fortune of the 45th pres­id­ent. 

This finan­cial setback only magni­fies the impact of Trump’s Russian entan­gle­ments. How much of a daily concern is his declin­ing fortune? And how much is his son telling him?

4. At a Janu­ary 2017 press confer­ence, before you were sworn in as Pres­id­ent, you dismissed alleg­a­tions from the so-called Steele Dossier that Russian intel­li­gence might have comprom­ising video­tape or “kompro­mat” on you. You asser­ted that you knew you were poten­tially under surveil­lance:

When I leave our coun­try, I’m a very high-profile person, would you say? I am extremely care­ful. I’m surroun­ded by body­guards. I’m surroun­ded by people.

And I always tell them — anywhere, but I always tell them if I’m leav­ing this coun­try, “Be very care­ful, because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go, you’re gonna prob­ably have cameras.” I’m not refer­ring just to Russia, but I would certainly put them in that category.

When did you first become aware the Russian intel­li­gence services were inter­ested in you and might be seek­ing inform­a­tion or mater­ial to use in their inter­ac­tions with you?

Trump knows he has been a target for Russian intel­li­gence for quite some time. He cannot cred­ibly claim, now, to be shocked – shocked!—that he and his sons were approached by Russian intel­li­gence as his campaign kicked into high gear. He was already on guard. When his campaign’s inter­ac­tions with Russian actors intens­i­fied, he was already many years into a cagey court­ship dance with Russian offi­cials.

Trump asserts that he has no Russian involve­ment. When his oldest son, Trump, Jr.’s mid-2016 meet­ing with a posse of Russian at Trump Tower came to light, the Pres­id­ent helped draft a mislead­ing state­ment about what was discussed: adop­tions, appar­ently. 

He knows better. He cannot play the naïve rube on this one.

5. In a July 27, 2016, at a press confer­ence in Flor­ida you said: “Russia, if you’re listen­ing, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are miss­ing.” You were refer­ring approx­im­ately 30,000 emails Hillary Clin­ton had on her personal server that she categor­ized as personal and deleted. Why did you call out to Russia and hope it would be able to find the emails?

WikiLeaks made the stolen DNC email trove public on July 22, 2016. Four days later, The New York Times repor­ted that U.S. intel­li­gence agen­cies felt confid­ent that the Russian govern­ment was behind the hack and that it had funneled the emails to WikiLeaks. One day later, Trump made his plea to Russia. Trump jumped over the middle­man and went to the source very quickly.

What Trump knew about WikiLeaks and its Russian sources (and when) is rapidly becom­ing one of the linch­pins of the collu­sion invest­ig­a­tion. By the fall of last year, Russian involve­ment in the DNC and John Podesta email leaks was taken as a given. During that time Trump’s eldest son, Trump, Jr., received messages from WikiLeaks. Trump himself mentioned WikiLeaks more than 130 times in the last month of the campaign.

Was WikiLeaks, in effect, the cutout know­ingly used by Russian oper­at­ives and the Trump campaign to coordin­ate efforts to inter­fere in the elec­tion?

6. What steps did you take or proced­ures did you imple­ment during your campaign and during the trans­ition to comply with federal laws? How did you super­vise and ensure that your staff was comply­ing with relev­ant federal laws?

Trump has portrayed his campaign and his busi­nesses as free­wheel­ing, seat-of-your-pants personal fief­doms. He has cultiv­ated a repu­ta­tion as the charm­ing scoun­drel who breez­ily breaks norms and scuffs the bound­ary between legal and illegal. “I took a lot of finance courses at Whar­ton, and first they taught you all the rules and regu­la­tions,” Trump told Forbes in 1987, “Then they taught that those rules and regu­la­tions are really meant to be broken.”

But any good exec­ut­ive who hopes to stay out of jail and in busi­ness for more than a few years creates compli­ance systems. Appar­ently this is not one of Trump’s strengths. His Atlantic City casi­nos were repeatedly fined in the 1990’s for viol­at­ing state regu­la­tions, such as when his father injec­ted cash into Trump’s ailing Taj Mahal casino by buying $3.5 million in chips but with no intent to gamble. And appar­ently he is constantly audited by the IRS. His found­a­tion was shut down last year by the New York State attor­ney general for viol­at­ing state law by soli­cit­ing dona­tions without proper author­iz­a­tion. And the New York state A.G. last year also slapped a $50,000 fine on Trump’s hotels for delay in telling custom­ers about a data breach involving 70,000 credit card numbers.

CEO’s are ulti­mately respons­ible for legal compli­ance. And they get indicted when they break the law. They are either will­fully blind or grossly incom­pet­ent. No CEO gets to say, “I told the lawyers to take care of it but I never super­vised them,” —espe­cially not when you’re being ques­tioned by the man who led the Enron task force. Mueller is likely to find out which type of CEO Trump is the old-fash­ioned way: walk­ing him through the White House org chart and show­ing him that compli­ance is indeed his respons­ib­il­ity.

7. When was the last time you had any commu­nic­a­tion with former national secur­ity adviser Michael Flynn either directly or through inter­me­di­ar­ies?

After Trump, Michael Flynn may be the most import­ant player in this drama. Flynn is crit­ical to the case in three respects. First, Flynn was allegedly fired for lying to Vice Pres­id­ent Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia. Why did the national secur­ity adviser feel the need to lie to the vice pres­id­ent? Second, it was the FBI’s probe of Flynn that led Trump to say to then-FBI Director James Comey, “I hope you can let this one go.” Why was Trump so anxious to have Comey end the Flynn invest­ig­a­tion?

Finally, Flynn pleaded guilty in Decem­ber to lying about his contacts with Russian ambas­sador Sergey Kislyak and agreed to cooper­ate with prosec­utors. Through­out, Trump has treated Flynn with kid gloves, vari­ously call­ing Flynn “a very good person,” and “I don’t think he did anything anything wrong.”

Despite all the kind words, ABC News repor­ted that Flynn decided to cooper­ate with Mueller last Novem­ber because he felt “aban­doned” by Trump.

By the end of 2016, before Trump took office, Flynn was under invest­ig­a­tion by the FBI. He was fired in Febru­ary 2017. But he only felt “aban­doned” nine months later? It raises the ques­tion what was being said, if anything, to Flynn privately and publicly before Novem­ber, and what happened to cause him to change his mind and cooper­ate?

8. Please list every commu­nic­a­tion you have had or have direc­ted someone in the White House to have with law enforce­ment or an intel­li­gence offi­cial where you inquired about the status of this invest­ig­a­tion?

So far we know that the Pres­id­ent has tried to influ­ence the invest­ig­a­tion eight times and includ­ing inquir­ies to the Direct­ors of the FBI, CIA, and National Intel­li­gence. Who else has he tried to sway? 

9. Do you use any personal phones, computers, serv­ers or email accounts to conduct govern­ment busi­ness or to discuss matters within the scope of this invest­ig­a­tion?

Trump does not use email or a computer very often. Instead, he reportedly has an assist­ant type up his emails. He also spends hours on the phone each day talk­ing to friends and acquaint­ances.

After trying to instill discip­line in the White House by hiring a four-star Marine general to be his chief of staff, Trump began using “work­arounds.”

Would it shock anyone to learn that he has multiple covert means of commu­nic­at­ing with people about the Mueller invest­ig­a­tions? Trump reportedly speaks with Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch every week. One news­pa­per says they discuss “strategy.” Does that include the Fox News chan­nel’s star­ring role in under­min­ing Mueller?

10. This is a picture of you and Nata­sha Stoyn­off,  a People magazine corres­pond­ent who visited Mar-a-Lago in 2005. Do you remem­ber meet­ing her and putting your tongue down her mouth against her will?  

At this point, Trump’s lawyers would prob­ably object that the ques­tion is outside the scope of inquiry. But you can’t blame me for trying.

The views expressed are the author’s own and not neces­sar­ily those of the Bren­nan Center for Justice.

(Photo: Getty)