The gross incompetence of the Trump White House in handling the Mueller probe is pretty stunning, and the problems begin at the top.1
For example, from Tuesday morning:
Given how close-mouthed the Mueller team has been and the Niagara-scale leaks flowing from the Trump White House, I’d bet good money that the leak that Trump finds “so disgraceful” did not in fact come from the office of special counsel. Indeed, the New York Times, which first published the list of proposed questions, reports that its version came from a list compiled by Trump’s lawyers, obtained when Mueller’s team read questions to them over the telephone.
Also contrary to Trump’s complaint, a significant number of the questions proposed to Trump do deal directly and obviously with possible collusion between Russia and his campaign. They include:
- “During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?”
- “When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?”
- “What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by (campaign manager) Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?”
- “What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?”
- “What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?”
- “What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?”
Those questions address six separate pathways by which collusion or conspiracy might be proved or disproved, and each is intriguing for its own reasons. For example, Trump has claimed to have had no prior knowledge of a Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between his top campaign staff, including his son and son-in-law, and Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.
“No, that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago, when I heard about this,” as he claimed in July 2017.
Based on Question Two, Mueller’s team has some doubt about that timeline. I do too. The notion that Don Jr. didn’t run to his father with the first hint of Russian dirt being delivered on Hillary just strikes me as absurd, given how that family operates.
Judging from Question Three, investigators also have cause to think that Manafort may have directly sought Russian assistance, which if so would constitute clear conspiracy to violate federal laws against foreign campaign interference. Naturally, investigators would need to know Trump’s level of knowledge, if any, about that possible outreach.
Those are all legitimate questions. Mueller’s assignment as special counsel is to “ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections,” including “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Clearly, that task cannot be completed without Trump’s testimony.
If the president is as confident in his innocence and that of his campaign as he constantly claims -- if he wants to put this “witch hunt” behind him as quickly as possible, as he also claims -- then he should not balk about providing the answers that Mueller seeks.
And yet, he does balk. Like a cat about to be thrown in a swimming pool, he howls and scratches and bites in a desperate bid to avoid that which he claims to seek.
1 It’s scary to think that the degree of White House incompetence shown in handling the Mueller probe must also be playing itself out in other areas, such as Iran and North Korea.