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Thomas Gallatin / May 1, 2018

Mueller's Leaky Investigation Getting Desperate?

The special investigation leaked to the press questions it sent to Trump for answers.

Someone within Robert Mueller’s special investigation leaked to The New York Times more than four dozen questions on a range of topics that Mueller presented to President Donald Trump’s lawyers in his pursuit of an interview. The Times does not state how it received the information, but the paper reports:

The open-ended queries appear to be an attempt to penetrate the president’s thinking, to get at the motivation behind some of his most combative Twitter posts and to examine his relationships with his family and his closest advisers. They deal chiefly with the president’s high-profile firings of the F.B.I. director and his first national security adviser, his treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Trump responded to the news by slamming the leaks, while noting that the questions did not directly ask about any attempt at Russian collusion. Trump declared, “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!” He added, “It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!”

This is now the second time the Mueller team has leaked significant information to the press. Back in October, the special investigation leaked that it had raised charges against several individuals. At the time, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, blasted the Mueller investigation for the leak, stating, “In the only conversation I’ve had with Robert Mueller, I stressed to him the importance of cutting out the leaks. It’s kind of ironic that the people charged with investigating the law and the violations of the law would violate the law.” And Gowdy has been one of the few Republicans defending the Mueller investigation.

As for the questions themselves, they make even more clear that Mueller has given up the Russian collusion angle, instead honing in on a case of obstruction. The number of questions dealing with Trump’s past public statements surrounding his firing of former FBI Director James Comey, for example, indicate that Mueller is looking for inconsistencies to exploit. And Trump, who so often shoots from the hip when publicly commenting on his decisions, could easily become entangled in a legal trap. He would be wise to avoid giving Mueller the opportunity.

That may explain the motivation behind Mueller’s leak. Is it a gambit designed to keep the negative news spotlight on Trump, thus building public pressure to force Trump into an interview? Could it also be an attempt to justify to the public the “need” to keep the investigation going by implying that the answers to these questions are the only way to determine whether a crime was committed? Whatever the motivation, Gowdy’s observation back in October bears repeating: “People charged with investigating the law and violations of the law” should not themselves be violating the law.

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