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Release of Mueller's questions puts Trump in the hot seat

Donald Trump probably should've read the list of Robert Mueller's questions before complaining about them.
Image: Senate Judiciary Committee
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. ...

If you saw last night's show, you know how important this scoop from the New York Times is.

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia's election interference, has at least four dozen questions on an exhaustive array of subjects he wants to ask President Trump to learn more about his ties to Russia and determine whether he obstructed the inquiry itself, according to a list of the questions obtained by The New York Times.The open-ended queries appear to be an attempt to penetrate the president's thinking, to get at the motivation behind some of his most combative Twitter posts and to examine his relationships with his family and his closest advisers.

The full list of questions is available on the Times' website, and they're worth considering in detail. As Chuck Rosenberg, a former top official in the Justice Department and the FBI, explained on the show last night, the lines of inquiry, among other things, reinforce earlier reports that the Donald Trump is currently the subject of an ongoing investigation.

As for what's next, the president responded to the Times' reporting with a new tweet this morning: "So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were 'leaked' to the media. No questions on Collusion. Oh, I have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information. Nice!"

Much of this is obviously foolish, but the part that stood out for me was Trump's insistence that there are "no questions on collusion" on Mueller's list. If that were true, the president might actually be raising an interesting observation.

But it's not true -- and Trump probably should've read the questions before complaining about them.

As Rachel emphasized on last night's show, one of the most striking questions on the list focuses specifically on possible cooperation between Putin's government and the Trump campaign: "What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?"

The Times' reporting added, "This is one of the most intriguing questions on the list. It is not clear whether Mr. Mueller knows something new, but there is no publicly available information linking Mr. Manafort, the former campaign chairman, to such outreach. So his inclusion here is significant. Mr. Manafort's longtime colleague, Rick Gates, is cooperating with Mr. Mueller."

There are plenty of related questions along these lines. When Trump argues that there are no questions about collusion on the list, the opposite is true.

As for whether or not the president will agree to answer any of these questions, there have been multiple reports in recent months that Trump's lawyers are strongly against the idea, concerned about his propensity for frequent and uncontrollable lying.

The new Times report went on to note, "When Mr. Mueller's team relayed the questions, their tone and detailed nature cemented [former Trump lawyer John] Dowd's view that the president should not sit for an interview. Despite Mr. Dowd's misgivings, Mr. Trump remained firm in his insistence that he meet with Mr. Mueller. About a week and a half after receiving the questions, Mr. Dowd resigned, concluding that his client was ignoring his advice."

So what happens now? We'll find out soon enough -- Rudy Giuliani is reportedly negotiating with the special counsel's team, so the door isn't closed altogether -- but former FBI Director James Comey stressed a point last night that seemed compelling.

"In a normal world, it would be very hard for the president of the United States not to submit to an interview in connection with an investigation that touches upon ... his conduct and that of people around him," Comey told Axios. "In a normal world, the American people would find that very, very difficult to accept."

Postscript: When Trump says it's "disgraceful" that the Mueller questions leaked, how sure are we that the leak didn't come from the president's own lawyers?