Taken as a whole, the leaked questions [Robert Mueller wants to ask Trump*] help shape and underscore some key takeaways:
1. Mueller always knows more than we think. Every single indictment has been deeper, broader, and more detailed than anyone anticipated. This “misunderestimating” of what Mueller knows has been both true of the public and media reports, and of his witnesses and targets: Both Rick Gates and Alex van der Zwaan were caught in lies by Mueller’s team, who have known far more specific information than their targets first realized. Presumably, Mueller’s questions to Trump are informed by even more evidence that we haven’t seen.
2. Mueller’s building a bulletproof case. Paul Manafort spent the spring trying to argue that Mueller was a loose cannon, a reckless, out of control prosecutor straying far beyond his assignment. His court case, though, proved just the opposite: The release this spring in court of a previously classified memo by Rod Rosenstein makes clear just how cautiously and conservatively Mueller is proceeding legally. One of the key members of Mueller’s team, Michael Dreeben, specializes in looking down the road at potential legal pitfalls, and how cases might appear not just at initial trials but in later appellate courts. And Dreeban’s work has paid obvious dividends: After reviewing the evidence in Manafort’s effort to dismiss the charges against him and Mueller’s highly detailed 282-page rebuttal, Judge Amy Berman Jackson told Manafort’s lawyers, “I don’t really understand what is left of your case.”
3. There are more loose threads than ever. Perhaps the most troubling conclusion after reading Mueller’s proposed questions is just how many questions exist about the behavior and motivations of the President of the United States during his first year in office. The 49 questions lay out just how much remains unanswered and unknown, publicly at least, nearly a year into Mueller’s special counsel work. It’s hard to tell from the questions alone which ones represent the most possible jeopardy for the president, but when matched against the five core areas of Mueller’s investigation, it’s clear that Mueller wants to talk with President Trump about nearly all of them, from obstruction of justice to the Trump Organization’s business deals in Russia to the 2016 Trump campaign’s involvement with various Russian officials. Add in the full breadth of the investigation, from New York taxi medallions to Virginia rug stores, and the “supporting players”—including Erik Prince, Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner, Tony Podesta, Carter Page, Sergey Kislyak, Sergey Gorkov, Michael Cohen, Roger Stone, as well as the hackers of Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear—and it’s clear that this is no made-up “witch hunt.” There are likely more indictments yet to come.
4. We still don’t know the biggest, most important evidence. There’s an ever-growing pile of evidence that exists that hasn’t become public yet. That includes, obviously, the evidence that George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, and Rick Gates all traded to Mueller for their plea deals over the last seven months. Presumably, Mueller considers each defendant’s testimony worthy of trading months—and even years—off of a potential prison sentence, so it seems significant that more than seven months after Mueller “flipped” Papadopoulos, we still haven’t seen a single iota of the evidence he presumably provided to the investigation.
5. Mueller likely already knows how this story ends. Add up the four above points and it seems clear that Mueller might actually be relatively close to wrapping up the investigation. Given that the FBI raid on Michael Cohen’s office, stemming from an investigation by federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, was sure to provoke a reaction from President Trump—the investigative equivalent of kicking a hornet’s nest—it seems likely that Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who approved the raid, understood that one or both of them might be fired by the president in its wake. It seems likely that before they took such a provocative step on the case that they could see their way through to the investigation’s end. [Continue reading…]
* The Washington Post now reports in greater detail how and by whom these questions were formulated. “Trump fumed when he saw the breadth of the questions that emerged out of the talks with Mueller’s team, according to two White House officials.”