The Questions Mueller Wants to Ask Trump About Obstruction, and What They Mean

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, recently provided President Trump’s lawyers a list of questions he wants answered in an interview. The New York Times obtained the list; here are the questions, along with the context and significance of each. The questions fall into categories based on four broad subjects. They are not quoted verbatim, and some were condensed.

Questions related to Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser

Michael T. Flynn in December 2017.
  • What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?

These questions revolve around whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice to protect Mr. Flynn from prosecution. His phone calls with Mr. Kislyak are at the heart of that inquiry.

During the calls, Mr. Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to sanctions just announced by the Obama administration. But Mr. Trump’s aides publicly denied that sanctions were discussed and, when questioned by the F.B.I., Mr. Flynn denied it, as well. Mr. Mueller wants to know whether Mr. Flynn was operating on Mr. Trump’s behalf. Prosecutors may already know the answer: Mr. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying and is cooperating with investigators.

  • What was your reaction to news reports on Jan. 12, 2017, and Feb. 8-9, 2017?

In January, the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius revealed Mr. Flynn’s phone calls with Mr. Kislyak. Mr. Ignatius questioned whether those conversations had violated a law prohibiting private citizens from attempting to undermine American policies. In February, The Washington Post revealed the true nature of Mr. Flynn’s conversations with Mr. Kislyak.

Mr. Mueller wants to know, among other things, whether Mr. Trump feared that his national security adviser had broken the law and then tried to shield him from consequences.

  • What did you know about Sally Yates’s meetings about Mr. Flynn?

Ms. Yates, the acting attorney general for the first weeks of the Trump administration, twice warned the White House that Mr. Flynn was lying, and those lies made him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. No one from the White House has ever said how much Mr. Trump knew about those warnings.

  • How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017?

Eighteen days after Ms. Yates’s warning, Mr. Flynn was asked to resign. The White House said that Mr. Trump lost confidence in Mr. Flynn because he had lied. But the White House has never fully explained why, after learning about the lie, officials waited so long to act.

  • After the resignations, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?

The Times recently revealed that, when Mr. Flynn began considering cooperating with the F.B.I., Mr. Trump’s lawyers floated the idea of a pardon. Mr. Mueller wants to know why.

  • What was your opinion of Mr. Comey during the transition?

The questions about Mr. Comey relate to whether Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey last year to shield Mr. Flynn, or anyone else, from prosecution. Mr. Trump has denied that, saying he fired Mr. Comey because of his mishandling of the F.B.I.’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

This question is important because, if Mr. Trump truly was upset about the Clinton investigation, he would have shown an early distaste for Mr. Comey.

  • What did you think about Mr. Comey’s intelligence briefing on Jan. 6, 2017, about Russian election interference?

The briefing revealed that American intelligence agencies had concluded that Russian operatives meddled in the election to hurt Mrs. Clinton and to boost Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on these conclusions and said he believes the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, who denies any interference.

  • What was your reaction to Mr. Comey’s briefing that day about other intelligence matters?

This question addresses documents written by a retired British spy, Christopher Steele, who said that Russia had gathered compromising information on Mr. Trump. The documents, which became known as the Steele Dossier, also claim that the Trump campaign had ties to the Russian government. Mr. Comey privately briefed Mr. Trump about these documents.

  • What was the purpose of your Jan. 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said?

A few weeks after his briefing, Mr. Comey was called to the White House for a private dinner. Mr. Comey’s notes say that Mr. Trump raised concerns about the Steele Dossier and said he needed loyalty from his F.B.I. director. This question touches on Mr. Trump’s true motivation for firing Mr. Comey: Was he dismissed because he was not loyal and would not shut down an F.B.I. investigation?

  • What was the purpose of your Feb. 14, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said?

That was a key moment. Mr. Comey testified that the president told him, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Mr. Trump has denied this.

  • What did you know about the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017?

Mr. Comey’s testimony publicly confirmed that the F.B.I. was investigating members of the Trump campaign for possible coordination with Russia. Mr. Mueller wants to know what role that revelation played in Mr. Comey’s firing.

  • What did you do in reaction to the March 20 testimony? Describe your contacts with intelligence officials.

In the aftermath, The Post reported, Mr. Trump asked the United States’ top intelligence official, Daniel Coats, to pressure Mr. Comey to back off his investigation. Mr. Mueller wants to ask Mr. Trump about his contacts with Mr. Coats as well as the C.I.A.’s director at the time, Mike Pompeo, and the National Security Agency’s director, Michael S. Rogers. The conversations could reflect Mr. Trump’s growing frustration with Mr. Comey — not about the Clinton case, but about his refusal to shut down the Russia inquiry.

  • What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Coats?

It is not clear whether Mr. Mueller knows something specific about Mr. Trump’s reaction to these interviews, but the question shows that Mr. Mueller is keenly interested in how Mr. Trump responded to each step of his investigation.

  • What was the purpose of your calls to Mr. Comey on March 30 and April 11, 2017?

Mr. Comey said that Mr. Trump called twice to ask him to say publicly that he was not under F.B.I. investigation. In the second call, Mr. Comey said, the president added: “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal. We had that thing, you know.”

  • What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?

While the White House ultimately said Mr. Comey was fired for breaking with Justice Department policy and discussing the Clinton investigation, Mr. Trump expressed no such qualms in an interview with Ms. Bartiromo of Fox Business Network. “Director Comey was very, very good to…

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