Donald Trump has repeated his assertion that there was “no collusion” between his 2016 presidential campaign and the Russian government, which attempted to sway the United States election in favor of Trump, dozens of times over the past several months. But one person who appears unpersuaded by Trump’s “no collusion” claim is Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Mueller recently gave the White House a list of almost 50 questions for Trump to answer as part of the Russia investigation, and those questions were apparently leaked to the New York Times from inside the White House — and published by the paper in an online report that appeared early Monday evening. The entire New York Times story on the Mueller questions for Trump may be read at this link.
The majority of the questions, which Trump has not yet decided whether or not he will answer, zero in on Trump’s possible obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation. For example, Mueller wants to ask Trump, “What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?”
On May 11, three days after he fired FBI Director James Comey who at the time was leading the Trump-Russia investigation, Trump gave a nationally televised interview to Lester Holt of NBC News, in which Trump said that he was thinking of “the Russia thing” when he fired Comey, appearing to indicate that by firing the FBI director, Trump sought to impede or end the Russia collusion probe.
But 13 of the questions from Mueller ask Trump to respond directly to instances of what appears to be collusion between his campaign and Russia. In fact, one especially explosive question appears to reveal that Mueller believes that officials in the Trump campaign actually initiated contacts with Russia, rather than Russia approaching the Trump campaign as has generally been assumed.
Whether Mueller has any new information about proactive contacts by the Trump campaign, specifically the campaign Chair Paul Manafort, remains unclear. Manafort and the campaign have not been accused of reaching out to Russia for help with the election in any publicly revealed information.
Here are the 13 Russia collusion questions to Trump from Mueller, as revealed by the Times.
• When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?
This question refers to the June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., Manafort, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and a group of Russian emissaries led by lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has since admitted serving as an “informant” for the Kremlin.
• What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?
When the meeting was revealed publicly in 2017, Trump Jr. released the email exchange that sparked the meeting. In the emails, the meeting was described to Trump Jr. as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin,” referring to Aras and Emin Agalarov, the father-son Russian oligarchs who attempted to collaborate with Trump on a Trump Tower Moscow project.
• During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?
Trump visited Moscow from November 8 through the early morning of November 10 in 2013, for the Miss Universe pageant which Trump then owned. The Agalarovs paid Trump $20 million to bring the event to Moscow, and met with Trump on multiple occasions during the visit.
• What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?
Mueller wants to know more about the Trump Tower Moscow project which was reportedly active at least until February of 2017, even though Trump repeatedly claimed that he had no business interests in Russia during the campaign.
• What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?
This question from Mueller likely refers to Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who attempted to set up a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin during the campaign — an idea that piqued Trump’s interest, according to recent public reports.
• What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
Mueller seems to suspect a deal between Russia and the Trump campaign under which Trump, if he won the election, would roll back sanctions on Russia in exchange for help winning the presidency. In fact, one of Trump’s first acts in office was to attempt to roll back Russia sanctions, only to be thwarted by State Department officials.
• What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?
The only significant change to the 2016 Republican Party platform was a severe weakening of support for Ukraine, which has been fighting a civil war against Russia-backed militias since March of 2014. Trump, according to some reports, was directly involved in that change, which directly benefits Russia.
• During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
Media reports in February revealed that Mueller was probing whether Trump himself knew of, and possibly even authorized, the release of hacked Democratic emails, stolen by Russian hackers. Those February reports of Mueller’s suspicions appear to have been accurate.
• What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?
This question has already raised more questions than any of the other 47 questions on Mueller’s list, as it marks the first revelation that Mueller suspects that the Trump campaign and possibly Trump himself actively sought covert Russian aid to Trump’s 2016 campaign.
• What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?
Longtime Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone has admitted making contact with Assange — the Wikileaks founder who released the Democratic emails hacked by Russian cyber-agents. Now Mueller wants to know if Trump knew that Stone was communicating with Assange, because if he was aware of the Stone-Assange contacts, it raises the possibility that Trump also knew in advance of the hacked emails.
• What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?
Kushner reportedly attempted to set up a secure, unauthorized line of communication with the Russian government during the presidential transition period. Though Kushner has denied any wrongdoing, Mueller’s question appears to assume Kushner’s guilt.
• What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?
Prince, founder of the mercenary group Blackwater and brother to Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos, held a secret meeting in the Seychelles island that was apparently intended to create another “back channel” between Trump and Russia. Mueller appears to suspect Trump knows more about the meeting than he has revealed.
• What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?
Trump’s personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, who is now under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors, delivered a “peace plan” to Trump via Michael Flynn, the Russia-linked general who later became Trump’s national security adviser before being quickly fired, supposedly for lying about his Russia ties. Cohen’s “peace plan” would have directly benefited Russia by recognizing Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed in 2014, as legitimate Russian territory — a proposal vehemently opposed by the Ukraine government.