On Monday night, the New York Times released a list of about four dozen questions that special counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask President Donald Trump as part of his probe into Russian election interference. On Tuesday morning, the president tweeted his response.
Basically everything Trump says here is a lie.
There are a few things to unpack, but let’s go through in order of the most obvious falsehoods.
“No questions on Collusion.”
Trump says that there are “No questions on Collusion” in Mueller’s list. The Times reported the list with its own editorial presentation and helpfully broke the questions down into categories. One of those categories is “Campaign Coordination With Russia.” That would otherwise be known as “collusion.” There are 13 questions in this category, not zero. One question specifically asks: “What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?”
“It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened!”
Trump appears to be arguing that because there’s “No Collusion!”—as the mantra goes—he couldn’t have possibly obstructed justice. First, the collusion question is an open one that is still subject to investigations in the Senate Intelligence Committee and by the special counsel. The various Russia investigations have already turned up multifaceted evidence of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russians and Russian intermediaries as well as Donald Trump Jr.’s confessed aim of getting “derogatory information” on Hillary Clinton from the Russians that would be “useful” to the campaign. Leaving all that aside, though, Robert Mueller has turned up several other crimes that happened. The president allegedly went to great lengths to obstruct efforts to look into at least one of those crimes: Michael Flynn’s lies to federal investigators, to which Flynn has already pled guilty. James Comey’s testimony about Trump’s alleged efforts to impede the Flynn investigation aside, Mueller’s team has many, many other questions about other potential avenues of obstruction. Also, Trump’s argument is a fallacy: You don’t need to prove the underlying crime in order to prove obstruction of justice. In fact, the point of obstructing justice is often to make the underlying crime harder to prove!
“Oh, I see…you have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information.”
Again, the question of to what extent Trump’s campaign tried to and succeeded in colluding with Russia is an open one. There is already lots and lots of public evidence about those efforts, though. The second part here is interesting. Trump’s claim that the investigation began “with illegally leaked classified information” has little basis in fact. The special counsel’s probe began in response to reporting in the New York Times about James Comey’s memo documenting an Oval Office meeting with Trump in which the president allegedly cleared the room and told the former FBI director, “I hope you can let this go,” in reference to the Flynn investigation. (Trump denies both of these things, to which Comey testified under oath.) That memo was recently released and it was marked “UNCLASSIFIED.” It remains unclear whether that memo was reclassified as confidential after the fact or if it has remained unclassified. Either way, Trump’s efforts to tarnish the special counsel’s genesis as criminal is a transparent absurdity.
“So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were ‘leaked’ to the media.”
Here, Trump seems to be implying that his political enemies—and possibly the special counsel itself—leaked the questions to the media. There’s no evidence of this. In fact, the questions appear to have come from somebody in Trump’s orbit, which might seem to imply that they had permission from the president himself. The Times described its source as a “list” compiled by the president’s lawyers of questions that Mueller’s team had read to them. “That document was provided to The Times by a person outside Mr. Trump’s legal team,” the Times reported. I guess it’s possible that Trump’s lawyers gave the special counsel their list, and the special counsel decided to leak Trump’s lawyers’ version instead of its own. It would be hard to try to decipher the point of all that. The release might be useful, however, to someone who wanted to attempt to smear the special counsel’s office as “leakers” and put talking points into the public realm around the focus of the inquiry.
Whoever put these questions out there and for whatever reason, just about everything Trump has said about the episode is untrue.