In the long arc of the Russia scandal and investigation, we have arrived inevitably and irretrievably at a showdown that takes us to the brink of what has until now been a slow-motion constitutional crisis. On one side is Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has a lengthy and exhaustive list of questions for the president of the United States. On the other side is Donald Trump, whose flailing attempts to stop Mueller betray the acts of a common criminal and traitor who has backed himself into a corner from which there is no escape.
The 49 questions, revealed by The New York Times on Monday night, get to the heart of not just what Trump knew about Russia's cybersabotage of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, but what his motivations were in firing FBI Director James Comey and National Security Director Michael Flynn, cowing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and enlisting a Republican congressional sycophancy to help him try to obstruct Mueller's investigation, which has netted 19 indictments, four guilty pleas from cooperating witnesses and one jail sentence and is far from being completed.
If Trump makes good on his repeated tweets that Mueller should be fired, it will be too late and then some to not only save Trump's collapsing presidency, but to protect family members whose indictments for their own criminal behavior seem all but inevitable. This is because the special counsel's investigation will survive, as well as gain new impetus, even if Mueller does not.
Among Mueller's questions for an interview with Trump -- a sitdown that now may well never happen because the stakes are too high for the beleaguered president -- are these:
What did you know about phone calls that Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in late December 2016?
How was the decision made to fire Flynn on February 13, 2017?
What efforts were made to reach out to Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?
What was the purpose of your January 27, 2017, dinner with Comey, and what was said?
What was the purpose of your calls to Comey on March 30 and April 11, 2017?
When was the decision made to fire Comey? Why? Who played a role?
What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Comey had taken the pressure off?
What is the reason for your continued criticism of Comey and his former deputy, Andrew McCabe?
What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Sessions?
What did you think and do in reaction to the news of the appointment of Mueller?
What discussions did you have regarding terminating Mueller?
When did you become aware of the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting?
What involvement did you have in the release of Donald Trump Jr.'s emails about that meeting?
What communications did you have with Michael Cohen, Felix Sater and others about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?
During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media and other acts?
What did you know about any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?
What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?
What did you know during the transition about an attempt by Jared Kushner to establish back-channel communications with Russia, and any other efforts?A common thread in the questions is obstruction of justice. What Trump knew and when he knew it is secondary.
Several of the questions reveal that Mueller's pursuit of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia is very much alive, notably what he knew of the activities of Manafort in seeking possible assistance from Moscow. His former campaign chairman faces spending the rest of his life in prison because of the long and daunting array of charges brought against him by Mueller. Manafort has thus far refused to cooperate.
Meanwhile, there has been an aggressive rear-guard action by House Republicans to discredit Mueller, Comey and McCabe . . . anyone with the credibility to question Trump's behavior, an effort that reached a sort of symphonic dissonance last Friday when Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released a hack job of a report absolving Trump and his campaign of any and all sins. Committee Democrats, as well as the evidence, were not consulted.
Trump, in a tweet on Tuesday morning, said it was "disgraceful" that Mueller's questions were publicly disclosed and noted that there were no questions about collusion. The president added that collusion was a "phony" crime.
Mueller and more recently Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have indicated to Trump that he is not a target of the special counsel's investigation, but that depends on how you define the word target. Conspicuous in their absence from the list are questions about possible money laundering involving Cohen and other Trump associates, but that does not meanMueller is not pursuing that fertile ground.
Mueller has sought for months to question Trump.
The president by turns has expressed a desire to be interviewed and demurred, and expressed a willingness to testify under oath and demurred. Mueller's questions are a response to Trump's lawyers' negotiations over an interview and their well-placed concern that Mueller will eat the president alive because of his well documented proclivity for exaggerating and lying.
And if the president ultimately does refuse to be interviewed would Mueller then issue a grand jury subpoena compelling him to face the music? Stay tuned.
Finally, there is this: A prosecutor of Mueller's experience and credibility would never ask a question to which he did not already know the answer.
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and related developments.