|Image credit: Jasjyot Singh Hans|
Despite the constant lies and shrieks of "fake news" coming out of the White House, the indictments handed down to date and the growing desperation on Donald Trump's part to stop the Russiagate investigation suggest that there is fire beneath the smoke seen to date. Add the list of questions Mueller may want to ask Trump - a list seemingly leaked by the White House itself or White House staff - and while the word "collusion" isn't used, some of the questions certainly dance closely around the topic. Add to this the rumor that Mueller may subpoena Trump - a situation which might force Trump to testify and, given his proclivity for lying - and set the stage for future perjury charges. Remember Bill Clinton's lie under oath that set his impeachment in motion? Lying about having sex with a woman pales in comparison to interacting with a hostile foreign government to throw a U.S. presidential election. As an editorial in the New York Times notes, Mueller likely knows and can document the true answer to questions to be asked of Trump. He also no doubt knows that Trump will lie under oath about those very issues just like he lies about virtually everything else. Here are editorial highlights:
The 49 questions that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, hopes to ask President Trump as part of the yearlong Russia investigation suggest that Mr. Mueller knows a great deal more than he’s letting on — and he hasn’t even gotten to the follow-ups yet.
After the questions, which were published by The Times on Monday, were provided to Mr. Trump’s legal team in March, John Dowd, the president’s lead personal lawyer at the time, urged him to avoid sitting for an interview with Mr. Mueller. When Mr. Trump said he intended to anyway, Mr. Dowd resigned.
Reading through the list, it’s clear why Mr. Dowd was so concerned. 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.
To name just a few: When and why did you decide to fire James Comey, the F.B.I. director, who was leading the Russia investigation at the time? What did you mean when you told NBC’s Lester Holt that you fired Mr. Comey because “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story”? Did you try to persuade the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to protect you from the investigation? Did you secretly promise to pardon Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who has pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his communications with the Russian ambassador?
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.
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.
Obstruction of justice is itself a federal crime — see, for example, Section 1505 of Title 18 of the United States Code — regardless of whether prosecutors can establish an underlying offense. Mr. Trump and his defenders mock it as a “process crime,” but the rule of law breaks down if people can interfere, with impunity, in law enforcement’s efforts to do justice. Don’t forget that both presidents who have faced impeachment proceedings in the past few decades, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, were accused of obstructing justice.
Mr. Mueller appears to have at least some evidence of an underlying offense. That is the implication of about a dozen of his questions, including the most surprising of all: Was Mr. Trump aware of any efforts by his campaign, and specifically by his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, to seek Russia’s help in winning the 2016 election?
[I]t’s worth noting that as far back as August 2017, CNN reported that American intelligence services had intercepted communications among suspected Russian operatives discussing conversations they claimed to have had with Mr. Manafort, in which he requested their help in damaging Hillary Clinton’s election prospects.
Whatever information he has, Mr. Mueller, like any seasoned prosecutor, does not ask questions unless he already knows the answers. Whether or not Mr. Trump decides to talk to him, the rest of us will know, too, soon enough.