Sohn: Donald Trump and the 49 questions

Sohn: Donald Trump and the 49 questions

May 2nd, 2018 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

President Donald Trump at Joint Base Andrews Base in Maryland in January. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Photo by DOUG MILLS

It sounds like a movie title: 49 questions.

President Donald Trump in a tweet calls it "disgraceful."

"So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were 'leaked' to the media. No questions on Collusion. Oh, I see you have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information. Nice!"

Spoiler alert: There are more than a dozen questions about campaign coordination with Russia, aka collusion and conspiracy — the real crime behind Trump's fear of the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in our 2016 presidential election.

The questions were obtained and published Monday evening by The New York Times. On Tuesday morning, Trumpers speculated they were leaked by special counsel Robert Mueller's team, though the Times story quite clearly laid out the way those questions were requested by and given to Trump's attorneys — most recently headed up by longtime Trump confidant and publicity-loving Rudy Giuliani, who met with Mueller last week to see whether the special counsel and his staff were going to be "truly objective."

But who would not know what questions investigators would want to ask? They are the same questions everyone has been talking about from the moment Trump took to the microphone during a campaign news conference in the summer of 2016 to say: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails [of Hillary Clinton's] that are missing."

Here's a smattering of the questions Trump will likely never answer, whether he stonewalls or takes the Fifth Amendment. Mr. President:

» What did you know about phone calls Michael Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016 — before you were sworn in? What did you know about then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates' meetings with Flynn? How was the decision made to fire Flynn? After Flynn resigned, what efforts did you or your team make to reach out to him about seeking immunity or possible pardon?

» What was your opinion of then-FBI Director Jim Comey during the transition? What did you think of Comey's intelligence briefing with you about Russian election interference? What was the purpose of your dinner with Comey three weeks later, and what was said? (There are more than a dozen questions about Trump's dealings and feelings with Comey and his feelings about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal — all aimed at getting to the question of obstruction of justice.)

Then there are many, many questions about Russian connections. Mr. President:

» When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, that your oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., arranged with a Russian lawyer who offered political dirt about Hillary Clinton? What involvement did you have in the release of Jr.'s emails?

» In your 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarov family and Russian government officials? What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?

» What involvement did you have concerning GOP platform changes about arming Ukraine? What did you know in the campaign about Russian hacking and the use of social media?

» What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner's efforts? What did you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince? What did you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Cohen in 2017? (The same Cohen who paid off Stormy Daniels and whose home, office and hotel room were raided by the FBI in April.)

When talks began months ago about a Mueller/Trump Q&A, Trump said he was all for being questioned by Mueller. He thought he could be Trump and bring an end to the probe. But his legal team, then led by John Dowd, feared Trump's well-known tendency toward exaggeration, half-truths and outright falsehoods. Dowd and Mueller's investigators agreed finally to share the questions investigators wanted to ask Trump.

The New York Times writes that when Dowd understood the questions, their tone and detailed nature, his view was "cemented" that the president should not sit for an interview. But Trump continued to insist, and Dowd resigned because Trump was ignoring his advice. Enter Giuliani — who told Trump he'll negotiate the probe away.

It's a good bet that Giuliani and Trump are setting the stage to fire Mueller.

But federal prosecutors — and special counsels — never ask questions to which they don't already know the answer. And even if Mueller is fired, there are indictments and pleadings already in the courts. If fired, Mueller, like Comey, becomes a new witness.

Perhaps what's most important, however, is the court of public opinion, which seems all ready to understand the deep corruption of Trump and his administration. An April Fox News poll found a whopping 56 percent of the country believes "it's likely Mueller's probe will find Donald Trump committed criminal or impeachable offenses." And 67 percent feel it's important the investigation continue.

The clock is ticking.

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