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What Mueller's Questions For President Trump Say About His Investigation

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right. Let's dig in a little more on this question of what Robert Mueller's questions may reveal about the direction of his investigation. And to do that, we turn now to attorney Sol Wisenberg. He was deputy independent counsel back in the Whitewater-Lewinsky investigation. He's the one who conducted the grand jury questioning of President Bill Clinton. Sol Wisenberg, welcome to the program.

SOL WISENBERG: Thanks, great to be here.

KELLY: Great to have you with us. I want you to follow up on something we just heard there from our correspondent Carrie Johnson - that most of Robert Mueller's questions appear to relate not to the 2016 campaign but to what came after, to possible obstruction of justice. What might that tell us?

WISENBERG: Well, she's right. I think of the 49 questions, only about 18 deal with potential criminal collusion. I think it tells you not only that he's obviously looking very closely at obstruction, but that he has a very, very broad view of what might constitute obstruction of justice. And if I were representing the president, I would be very worried about that.

KELLY: What specifically? What would I be worried...

WISENBERG: Well, for example, he's asking all kinds of questions about what your motive or intent was in firing Jim Comey - asking questions about alleged attempts or thoughts about firing Mueller himself, asking questions about his anger at Jeff Sessions for refusing to recuse himself - sorry - for recusing himself and refusing to reconsider that. That would be a very broad view of obstruction. The idea - I mean, let's face it. The president has the constitutional authority to fire Jim Comey. The idea that a lawful act like that could become criminal obstruction of justice just because of the president's motive is, I think, very questionable. I know there are people who disagree with me on that, but the point, for purposes of the president's attorneys, is it shows a very broad view by Mueller and his team.

KELLY: Stay on that point for a minute - of the question that related to Mueller's own position - that specific question. I'll quote it - reads, "what discussions did you have regarding terminating the special counsel, and what did you do when that consideration was reported in January 2018?" Sol Wisenberg, how would that play out? This is Mueller asking questions about the president possibly considering terminating him.

WISENBERG: Well, there's nothing inherently wrong with asking that question. If I were...

KELLY: Would Mueller have to recuse himself from asking that question directly?

WISENBERG: No. When you're investigating a subject or a target, and the subject or the target engages in a particular activity hostile to you, you don't give him the power to cause you to disqualify yourself. It's like what the president did during the campaign when he got a ruling from a judge in a civil case he didn't like. And he said, well, I've been attacking Hispanics. That judge has to recuse himself because he's Hispanic. You don't let somebody do that to create their own conflict. If you did that every time a prosecutor was prosecuting a case, the person under investigation would write a threatening or nasty letter to the prosecutor in an effort to recuse him. So that isn't going to work.

KELLY: Let me ask you this. What do we not learn from this list of questions? How much of his hand is Mueller not tipping here?

WISENBERG: Well, any one of these questions - if they're answered in a certain way - will call forth a number of very specific follow-ups. There's really nothing surprising about these questions except for, like I say, the broad scope of some of the obstruction questions. In other words, you would expect somebody like Mueller and his team - a very capable and a very aggressive team - to ask questions like this.

KELLY: Right. I was thinking you and I could've sat down for half an hour and come up with a similar list of questions.

WISENBERG: That's right, and of course they've had the benefit of being on the case for almost a year now and - or maybe a year - some of the people on the case. And so they've got detailed information from which to frame these questions, so there's nothing unusual about it. What's unusual is kind of how the questions came to be written - that the president's lawyers demanded to know exactly what the questions were and then that somebody leaked them. And when I see a leak, I usually look to who benefits from the leak. Who is made to look good from the leak? And the people who were made to look good, as Carrie suggested, were the people who've been telling the president don't go in for this interview.

KELLY: Former prosecutor Sol Wisenberg. He's now at the law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough. Sol Wisenberg, thanks for your time.

WISENBERG: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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