Special Counsel Robert Mueller might testify before a friendly House Judiciary Committee, although the exact date is uncertain. President Trump has signaled he’ll block this under executive privilege principles.
But Mueller is a loose cannon who coordinates with the media and Congress and may just blow through any presidential objection, as he has already shown a willingness to defy his boss. That’s great news. Here’s why.
If that happens, Republicans will have the opportunity to ask questions. Traditionally, these tiny slices of time are used to make speeches in the form of a question. This would be a huge waste of time and likely what the Democrats will do anyway. Again, good. Let them. We’ve heard the speeches, and everyone will just fast-forward through them on the CSPAN video.
Republicans must not miss the opportunity to actually ask tough questions. Here is a very incomplete list of questions the Republicans—really all Americans—should ask Mueller.
1. Your report seems to indicate that you could not corroborate the Christopher Steele dossier. What steps did you take to review Steele’s source material?
- Did you identify any of his original sources and speak to them?
- Did you interview Steele directly? Was that interview transcribed?
- Did any of Steele’s sources come from inside the United States—e.g., the State Department or individuals with ties to the Democratic National Committee or the Clinton campaign?
- Did you determine whether Steele paid any of these sources? If so, how much and who did he pay?
2. Public reports indicate that your number two, Andrew Weissmann, received briefings from Justice Department (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr regarding the Trump investigation as early as the summer of 2016. When did you and Weissmann first discuss the possibility of Russian interference in the 2016 election? In 2016, did anyone discuss with you the possibility of you participating in an investigation of Trump?
3. During the course of the investigation, did the special counsel’s office receive any assistance or leads from Fusion GPS?
4. Did you authorize any contact with the media by any member of the special counsel staff (including investigators)? Would you object to an investigation into whether any of the more than 25 leaks attributed to your team violated DOJ policy on media contact or its Rules of Professional Conduct regarding prosecutors releasing information to the media about a target?
5. How did the Washington Post obtain a copy of your March 17 letter to Attorney General William Barr, in which you objected to his summary of the bottom-line conclusions of your report?
6. You indicate in your report that the investigation into the Trump campaign began with a contact between George Papadopoulos and Alexander Downer. Where did you get that information?
7. The New York Times has speculated that the Russians may have fed Steele disinformation in order to sow chaos into the U.S. election. Do you agree or disagree with that assessment? Why? Why doesn’t your report address this aspect of Russian interference?
8. Was there any discussion within the special counsel team on whether to include in the report information about the Fusion GPS research project on Trump and Russia?
9. What is your understanding of why the FBI didn’t notify Donald Trump that there was a concern the Russians were trying to influence the election? Was the FBI trying to catch Trump in the act of colluding?
10. Public reports indicate that you learned of a series of text messages between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in the summer of 2017 and that you ultimately dismissed Strzok from the investigation. Is that true? Which text messages caused you concern?
11. It’s also been reported that you returned or allowed to be returned the Strzok/Page cell phones back to the FBI information technology department, leading to the irretrievable erasing of many of those text messages. Why didn’t you preserve their text messages after you learned that they had exchanged inappropriate text messages on their phones?
12. Public reports indicate that FBI investigators did not think that former national security advisor Michael Flynn intentionally lied to the FBI during his interview and that his misstatements were inadvertent or the result of misremembering. Is that true?
13. Why was a summary of Flynn’s interview prepared in July 2017, approximately six months after it occurred?
14. Did any of the members of the special counsel team seek or were they provided an ethics opinion regarding any conflicts of interest? Who? What were the sources of those potential conflicts?
15. On April 27, 2018, the House issued a report finding Trump did not collude with the Russians. Why were you not prepared to issue a similar finding in early 2018? What steps in your investigation remained unresolved that kept you from reaching a similar conclusion last year?
16. Barr testified that if a president is falsely accused of a crime, he may properly end an investigation into that accusation if the investigation is interfering with his executive functions. Do you agree? Why or why not?
17. Jeannie Rhee, a member of your team, was assigned to work on the Papadopoulos case. She also worked to protect the Clinton Foundation in a case a few months earlier while at the law firm WilmerHale.
It has since come out that Clinton paid for the Steele dossier that falsely accused Trump of colluding with the Russians. To deflect blame from Clinton for starting the Russia investigation, many claimed the investigation didn’t start with the Steele dossier but with the Papadopoulos encounter with Downer. Can you see how Rhee’s participation in the prosecution of Papadopoulos shields Clinton (Rhee’s former client) from liability for the Steele dossier?
18. There is a report that you turned over the day-to-day operations of the special counsel team to Weissmann. How do you respond to that account? Is there any evidence or log of how much time you physically came to the office to supervise the team?
19. Several of the public announcements made in connection with the special counsel report coincided with important foreign policy trips by the president. For example, days before the president had his first summit with Vladamir Putin on July 16, 2018, the special counsel unsealed indictments against Russian GRU actors and the deputy attorney general held a highly sensational press conference.
In November 2018, a number of leaks that appeared to originate from your office coincided with the president’s G-20 summit, which may have played a role in the cancellation of a meeting between Trump and Putin. Has there ever been any discussion within the special counsel’s office regarding its impact on current events? Was any strategy discussed to either minimize or maximize that impact?
20. Several members of the special counsel team left high-paying jobs outside of the government. For example, you and Rhee both left jobs at WilmerHale. Were you aware of what, if any, assurances or arrangements were made so people would have jobs to return to when the special counsel project was over? Have any of those arrangements or assurances been submitted to an ethics advisor for an opinion on conflicts of interest?
21. Did the special counsel’s office attempt to interview Julian Assange to determine how he obtained the emails from the DNC and the John Podesta hacks?