- The special counsel Robert Mueller is said to have focused on two key areas in his questions to President Donald Trump about potential collusion with Russia.
- Mueller asked Trump about the Russian government’s hack of the Democratic National Committee and whether he knew anything about it at the time.
- Mueller also asked the president whether he knew at the time about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between top campaign officials and two Russian lobbyists offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, then a Democratic presidential candidate.
- The questions indicate Mueller is homing in on the pivotal period from June to August 2016.
The special counsel Robert Mueller focused on two key areas in his questions to President Donald Trump about potential collusion between his campaign and Russia, according to Trump’s lead defence lawyer.
Rudy Giuliani told the news site Axios on Wednesday that Mueller asked about the Russian government’s hack of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the summer of 2016. Giuliani also said Mueller asked the president whether he knew at the time about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and two Russian lobbyists said to have offered kompromat on Clinton.
Giuliani did not elaborate when Axios asked about specific questions the special counsel asked Trump, and he did not immediately respond to a request for comment from INSIDER. But his revelations indicate Mueller is homing in on the period from June to August 2016, arguably the most pivotal time in the 2016 campaign season.
Mueller has long been focused on the Russia-backed campaign to hack into the DNC and distribute stolen emails via the Russia-linked hacker Guccifer 2.0 and the pro-transparency group WikiLeaks.
Trump has had no known contacts with WikiLeaks or Russians connected to the hack. But as a candidate, he expressed support for the group. He also famously made a public appeal directly to Russia during a press conference on July 27, 2016, saying he hoped Russians would be “able to find” the 33,000 emails Clinton deleted from her private server.
Meanwhile, Trump Jr. and the longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone, who was an informal adviser to the Trump campaign, were in direct contact with WikiLeaks during the campaign.
Trump Jr. arguably faces the most legal exposure from his involvement in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which he attended with Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman, and Jared Kushner, a senior adviser. Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction charges earlier this year and is cooperating with Mueller.
When news of the meeting surfaced in July 2017, Trump Jr. said it was focused on Russian adoptions – an issue related to the 2012 Magnitsky Act – and did not involve campaign business.
It later emerged that Trump Jr. took the meeting after he was offered dirt on Clinton and that it was pitched to him by the British music publicist Rob Goldstone as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump’s candidacy.
“I love it,” Trump Jr. replied.
Trump and his lawyers have said the president had no knowledge of the meeting at the time. But at least three Trump associates, including Giuliani, have hinted that he may know more about it than he’s letting on.
In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee released testimony from Trump Jr. and Goldstone that raised additional questions about whether Trump knew about the meeting in advance, and if so, how much.
Observers have pointed to a series of phone calls Trump Jr. made and received on June 6, 2016, after he got the offer.
Before taking the meeting, Trump Jr. told Goldstone he wanted to make sure it was legitimate and “just speak to Emin first,” referring to Emin Agalarov, the Russian pop star Goldstone worked with and pitched the meeting on behalf of.
After talking to Goldstone, Trump Jr. got a phone call from Russia that lasted a minute or two. Then he was in contact with a blocked number for three or four minutes. Immediately after ending that call, Trump Jr. called Agalarov back, and the two spoke for a few minutes.
It’s unclear whom Trump Jr. spoke to in between his calls to Agalarov. But Corey Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign manager, has said Trump’s private residence at Trump Tower has a blocked number.
In addition to facing questions about whether he knew about the meeting, Trump is also under scrutiny for his role in crafting an initially misleading statement from Trump Jr. when news of the meeting emerged in July 2017. Prosecutors have said that if Trump knew the purpose of the meeting and acted to conceal it, it could add to Mueller’s growing obstruction case against him.
Trump’s lawyers sent their answers to Mueller’s first round of questions on Tuesday.
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