Sunday 23 September 2018

Questions posed suggest testing times ahead for Donald Trump

Robert Mueller Photo: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo
Robert Mueller Photo: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

Jennifer Rubin

Compare the clownish, wholly unmeritorious efforts by House Republicans to draft articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with the four dozen or so questions Robert Mueller has prepared for Donald Trump, as reported by the 'New York Times'.

The farcical impeachment scheme to rid themselves of Rosenstein demonstrates once more that House Republicans are unserious people who should not be entrusted with power.

Mueller's questions, by contrast, demonstrate that the right person is in the job to probe exactly the right questions: Was Trump privy to collusion between his campaign and Russia? Did he have corrupt intent necessary to prove he obstructed justice through a series of actions intended to impede an investigation into himself and his associates?

One can draw conclusions from the questions. First, it's impossible to imagine Trump getting through an interview without contradicting himself or others' whose testimony Mueller already has. Second, the questions, contrary to Trump's assertions, suggest that collusion is very much on the table. Questions such as "When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?" and "What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?" are designed to probe Trump's awareness of the dozens of interactions between members of the Trump team and Russians during the campaign and transition. Mueller might have information from other witnesses that would contradict Trump if he denies knowledge of Russian collaboration. A question such as "What communication did you have with Michael D Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?" doesn't come out of nowhere. Prosecutors have documents and other witness interviews that might give them a picture of Trump's communications. Denying his involvement with others involved in plotting with Russians, in that case, will put Trump at risk of being charged with lying to the FBI.

Third, reporters, mimicking the White House spin, act as though Trump's testimony is optional. Given how specific the questions are and their obvious relevance to identifiable crimes (obstruction, witness tampering, illegal solicitation of foreign campaign assistance), Mueller would in all likelihood get a subpoena and find a judge to enforce it if Trump refused to testify. Trump would then find himself either in the entirely untenable legal position of refusing to abide by a court order or in the untenable political position of taking the Fifth Amendment. Fourth, Mueller clearly doesn't buy the argument that the president cannot obstruct justice by exercising his constitutional authority (eg, firing the FBI director).

The questions are largely directed at determining whether Trump exercised his powers with corrupt intent. Did he fire FBI director James Comey to protect himself from the Russia investigation? Did he craft a cover story about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the intent to deceive the public and prosecutors? Those arguing Trump "can't obstruct justice when he's acting as president" will need a new rationale to defend him. Fifth, if Mueller is bound by the standing Justice Department memo that concludes a sitting president cannot be indicted, Trump's status as a subject, not a target, makes sense. The facts are already there, one might readily conclude, to make out a case for obstruction, so how could he not be a target? The answer: Trump cannot be a target since he is not (currently) capable of being indicted. If Mueller finds Trump did commit criminal acts, he can suggest in his report that impeachment is appropriate and/or recommend that Trump be indicted after he leaves office.

(© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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