- Just before US President Donald Trump and his lawyer made their boldest appeal yet for the Russia investigation to be shut down, the special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly sent over a list of questions to the president.
- Mueller is still seeking a face-to-face interview with Trump, but the questions are said to be a starting point he wants to use for follow-ups.
- Shortly after, Trump and his lawyer, John Dowd, called for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to shut down the Russia investigation and fire Mueller.
Shortly before President Donald Trump and one of his personal defence attorneys made their most brazen calls yet for the Russia investigation to be shut down, they apparently received a list of questions from the special counsel Robert Mueller.
The development comes as Trump’s legal team has been working for months to sidestep or significantly narrow the scope of an interview between Mueller and their client, who has shown a tendency to exaggerate the facts and make misleading statements.
According to The New York Times, Trump’s tweets this weekend came after Mueller sent the questions as part of his negotiations with Trump’s legal team over an interview with the president. Mueller is still seeking an interview, sources told The Times, but sent the list as a starting point that he can later use to ask follow-up questions.
Soon after, Trump embarked on one of his most heated, weekend-long tirades against Mueller, former FBI director James Comey, and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe late Friday night, hours before he was set to retire with full pension benefits.
Trump and his lawyer lash out
On Saturday morning, Trump’s personal defence attorney, John Dowd, told The Daily Beast the Russia investigation should be shut down.
“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd said in a text message, according to the report.
Dowd, who is the primary point of contact between Trump and the special counsel, initially said he was making the statement in his capacity as Trump’s attorney, but later walked that back and said he was acting in his own capacity and not on Trump’s behalf.
Hours later, Trump blasted out a tweet which echoed Dowd’s statement about the “fraudulent” Trump-Russia dossier.
“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” he tweeted. “It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!”
Trump’s tweetstorm continued into Sunday morning.
What Mueller wants to know
The exact content of Mueller’s questions to Trump is unclear. But public reporting and updates from Congress indicate there are a few broad topics that Mueller has inquired about.
Trump is currently the focal point of Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice investigation, which stems from Trump’s decision to fire Comey last May. Comey and McCabe, both of whom kept detailed memos about their conversations with Trump, are critical witnesses in the obstruction probe.
Mueller is also scrutinizing Trump as he investigates whether his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election. In particular, Mueller is said to be looking into whether Trump had any advance knowledge of Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee and the subsequent dissemination of stolen materials.
The Times reported on Thursday that Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organisation for documents related to its efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The revelation could constitute a breach of the “red line” Trump said Mueller would cross if the investigation ventured into the Trump family’s personal finances.
On Friday, Felix Sater, the Russian-born businessman who acted as an intermediary between the Trump Organisation and Russia on the deal, confirmed that the company was actively negotiating with a sanctioned Russian bank to secure financing for the building at the height of the 2016 election.
That same day, Facebook announced that it had removed Cambridge Analytica, one of the two firms the Trump campaign hired to run its data operation, from its platform after it emerged that the firm harvested the personal data of 50 million Facebook users for targeted political advertisements without their permission.
Cambridge Analytica has long faced questions from investigators over its potential engagement with foreign actors, like Russia and WikiLeaks, during the 2016 election. The firm attracted additional scrutiny this weekend, when The New York Times reported that the Russian oil giant Lukoil showed an interest in how Cambridge Analytica used data to target messages toward American voters.