Special counsel Bob Mueller submitted a list of questions to President Donald Trump focused on possible collusion between his campaign and Russia's government.
CNN reports that the move is a “major development” after months of tense negotiations and suggests it could mean that Mueller is nearing the “final phase” of his investigation.
Though it was previously reported that Mueller wanted to ask Trump about potential obstruction of justice in the probe after his firing of FBI Director James Comey and reported attempted firings of Mueller himself, along with repeated attacks against Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation, the questions submitted to the president's legal team focus on collusion. Trump's lawyers previously insisted that the president would not answer any questions in regards to obstruction of justice.
Trump's lawyers are preparing written responses to the questions. There may be additional rounds of questions after the first answers are submitted. Mueller's team has insisted they be allowed to ask follow-up questions after agreeing to let Trump submit written answers in lieu of a face-to-face interview with prosecutors.
On Thursday, Trump claimed that he is willing to sit down with Mueller.
"It seems ridiculous that I'd have to do it when everybody says there's no collusion, but I'll do what is necessary to get it over with," Trump said in a phone interview with “Fox & Friends.”
According to CNN, the president's legal team nearly reached a deal in January for Trump to be questioned at Camp David, but negotiations broke down. In the following months, Trump's lawyers tried to limit the scope of the testimony before the president's lead lawyer, John Dowd, resigned in March.
According to veteran journalist Bob Woodward's book, Fear: Trump in the White House, the tensions were equally as high behind the scenes between Trump and his lawyers.
Woodward reports that Trump was eager to sit down for an interview so Dowd convinced him to participate in a mock session in January. Dowd grilled Trump on the Russia probe, eliciting “stumbles, contradictions, and lies until the president eventually lost his cool.”
“This thing’s a goddamn hoax,” Trump shouted before going on a 30-minute rant.
“I don’t really want to testify,” he later added.
Woodward later recalled the encounter in an interview with CBS “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert.
“Trump goes ballistic, makes things up, starts screaming. Dowd thought had he been Mueller, he would have been fired right on the spot,” Woodward said, adding that Dowd warned Trump he would be “fitted for an orange jumpsuit” if he ever sat down with Mueller.
“‘You can’t testify. You, you are disabled,’” Dowd said, according to Woodward. “I mean, imagine the lawyer, your lawyer, telling you you’re disabled. ‘And you can’t testify because you can’t tell the truth. You just make things up!’”
“Dowd knew he couldn’t bring himself to say to the president, ‘You’re a f—ing liar,’” Woodward wrote in the book.
In May, The New York Times published a leaked list of questions that Mueller reportedly told the Trump team he wants to ask the president. Thirteen of the questions were related to possible collusion.
According to the report, Mueller wants to know when Trump became aware of the infamous Trump Tower meeting where his son Donald Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and campaign chief Paul Manafort met with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton. Mueller also wants to know about Trump's role in the campaign's response to the meeting.
The questions also include lines of inquiry about who Trump spoke with during his 2013 trip to Russia for the Miss Universe pageant, his discussions about Russian real estate developments during the campaign, any potential discussions about meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and any campaign discussions about Russian sanctions.
Mueller also wants to know what involvement Trump had in the Republican National Convention's platform changes about arming Ukraine, his knowledge of Russia's attempts to meddle in the election, Manafort's outreach to Russia for assistance with the campaign, Kushner's attempts to establish a back-channel to Russia, Blackwater Founder Erik Prince's meeting with a Russian oligarch in Seychelles, and a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to his longtime fixer Michael Cohen in 2017.