By Karen Freifeld and Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday criticized the leak to media outlets of more than 40 questions that U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask the president as part of the probe into Russia’s election meddling and possible collusion by the Trump campaign
As negotiations continue over whether the president will sit for a interview with investigators, legal experts said the leaked questions would have little impact on the case.
“So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were ‘leaked’ to the media. No questions on Collusion,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened!”
Mueller’s investigators read the questions to Trump’s lawyers who compiled them into a list, according to the New York Times, which said it obtained the document from a person outside Trump’s legal team. Trump’s legal team met with Mueller last week to discuss interviewing the president, according to the Journal.
Representatives for the Special Counsel’s Office declined to comment. Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, also had no comment.
Mueller’s list of at least four dozen questions includes ones on Trump’s ties to Russia and others to determine whether the president obstructed the inquiry itself, the New York Times reported late Monday. The Wall Street Journal also reported the potential queries.
“I don’t see the benefit of the leak to the Trump team, and I don’t see any particular harm to the Mueller team,” Savannah Law School professor Andrew Wright, former associate counsel in President Barack Obama’s White House, said of the leak.
“It’s hard for me to imagine it’s coming from Mueller’s team. And it’s kind of a ham-handed effort if it’s someone who’s trying to help the president.”
Mueller is probing Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, whether Moscow colluded with the Trump campaign and if the president has unlawfully tried to obstruct the investigation.
Russia has denied meddling in the U.S. election, while Trump has said there was no collusion and that the probe should end.
Most of the questions relate to possible obstruction of justice, the reports said. Under federal law, obstruction of justice is the act of intentionally impeding judicial proceedings. A crime does not necessarily have to have been proven.
While the questions do not cite “collusion,” they do address what the president knew about Russian hacking, its use of social media and “other acts aimed at the campaign” for the U.S. presidency ahead of the November 2016 election, the Times said.
MANAFORT TARGETS POSSIBLE LEAKS
One question was, “What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?,” a reference to Trump’s former campaign manager who faces two indictments by Mueller in federal courts in Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, Virginia.
Manafort faces charges that include conspiracy to launder money, failure to register as a foreign agent when he lobbied for the pro-Russia Ukraine government, bank fraud and tax fraud.
Late Monday, Manafort’s lawyers asked a Virginia federal judge to hear oral arguments later this month on whether prosecutors in Mueller’s office may have leaked classified and other secretive materials about the case to the media.
Manafort’s lawyers also said that after they requested evidence of any surveillance or intercepted communications between Manafort and Russian officials, Mueller’s office advised that no such evidence exists.
On Friday, Manafort’s lawyers will also ask the judge in Virginia to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that the scope of Mueller’s probe is excessive, in violation of Justice Department rules governing special prosecutors.
Mueller’s list also included inquiries about Trump’s firings of former FBI Director James Comey, who headed the Russia investigation before he was dismissed in May 2017, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the Times reported.
Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during his interview as part of Mueller’s probe.
(Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Brendan O’Brien; editing by Susan Heavey and Cynthia Osterman)