A long time ago there was a popular radio show called “Twenty Questions.”
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are going way beyond that. They want to ask Special Counsel Robert Mueller 60 questions about the ins and outs of Russia’s invasion of our 2016 presidential election.
In a formal letter to the committee’s chairman, Senator Lindsey Graham, they’ve written out the questions, which involve: Russia’s election interference; WikiLeaks’s publication of hacked Democratic National Committee emails; communication between Donald Trump’s campaign officials and Russians; possible obstruction of justice; Trump’s business ties to Russia; his degree of cooperation with Mueller’s investigation; and interactions with former White House counsel Don McGahn, whom the Mueller report mentions more than 150 times.
I want to know the answers to these questions. I’m sure you want to know. Inquiring minds want to know. I don’t have enough space in this column to list all the questions (though you can read them on Google), but I want to mention some here:
• President Trump refused requests that he appear for a voluntary interview with the Special Counsel’s investigators. And, while he did provide written responses to questions about “certain Russia-related topics,” he claimed to “not recall” or “not remember” particular information or events more than 30 times. Other answers were “incomplete or imprecise.” Please identify all instances where the president’s testimony would have been helpful to shed more light on whether his conduct satisfied the elements of criminal obstruction of justice.
• The report recounts extensive communications between Trump campaign officials, including Jared Kushner and Dmitri Simes, who had been approached by a Russian oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin about arranging a back channel between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. The Russians provided the Trump campaign with derogatory information about Bill Clinton’s alleged ties to Russia. The letter asks whether the investigation was able to verify the extent of Simes’ ties to Russian officials and whether the Kremlin was aware of his connection with the Trump campaign?
• To what extent did the Trump campaign benefit from Russian hacking and WikiLeaks’ release of stolen documents? WikiLeaks is an international organization that publishes news leaks and often classified documents.
• The report examines various avenues through which Russian intelligence services may have transferred documents to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. The report says that “the [Mueller] Office cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.” Were Mueller’s investigators able to rule out the possibility that U.S. persons were aware of, or involved in, transferring documents, or arranging for the transfer of documents, to Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?
• Why did Mueller elect not to pursue an interview with Donald Trump Jr.? Did his refusal to be interviewed impact the investigation? If so, how? The Senate Intelligence Committee has now subpoenaed Trump’s eldest son to answer its questions.
• Was Mueller able to determine why none of the Trump campaign officials who learned of offers of assistance from Russia, or who received such offers directly, never reported those offers to U.S. law enforcement officials?
• In January 2018, President Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to create a record denying that the president had ordered him to fire the Special Counsel. Mueller’s report notes that “the evidence indicates that the President knew by the time [that he ordered McGahn to dispute press reports about the firing incident] that McGahn’s account differed and that McGahn was firm in his views. The president nevertheless persisted and asked McGahn to repudiate facts that McGahn had repeatedly said were accurate.” Under this analysis, even if the president did not actually recall having ordered McGahn to fire Mueller, would his efforts to force McGahn to alter testimony that McGahn “firmly” believed to be true still qualify as an “obstructive act”?
• To what degree was the investigation able to determine why Paul Manafort volunteered to work for the Trump campaign for free, and whether he discussed the possibility of joining the Trump campaign team with foreign nationals?
• In 2016, Paul Manafort, who is now in prison, said that if Trump won, the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska “would want to use Manafort to advance whatever interests Deripaska had in the United States and elsewhere.” Was the Mueller investigation able to determine whether Manafort was being cultivated as, or serving as, a long-term asset for Deripaska, Russia, or other foreign nationals or governments?
• The Mueller report noted that President Trump and his lawyers made public and private comments to Paul Manafort which encouraged Manafort not to “break” or “flip,” and “suggested that a pardon was a more likely possibility if Manafort continued not to cooperate with the government.” The report found that President Trump “intended to encourage Manafort to not cooperate with the government.” To what degree did Manafort’s failure to cooperate impede Mueller’s efforts?
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, led its nine Democratic members asking Senator Graham to call Mueller to testify so that the committee “might have the opportunity to ask these and other questions of Special Counsel Mueller directly and receive his answers.”
In the old Twenty Questions game, lying was not allowed. If only they would play the game that way now.
Robert P. Bomboy has written for more than 60 national magazines and is the author of six books, including the novel “Smart Boys Swimming in the River Styx.” He taught for more than 30 years in colleges and universities, and he has been a Ford Foundation Fellow at the University of Chicago
and in Washington, D.C.