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Phil Valentine: The potential trek across the Mueller minefield

Phil Valentine • Updated May 3, 2018 at 4:00 PM

The news media are abuzz with speculation as to who leaked the questions Robert Mueller is going to ask President Trump, if he ever gets the chance. At least one CNN legal analyst thinks Trump is the source of the leak. Michael Zeldin points to improper grammar as the smoking gun. He didn’t elaborate.

The general consensus is these questions were compiled by Trump’s lawyers during negotiations with Mueller’s people over a Trump interview. Then who leaked them? It’s difficult to tell. The bigger question is who stands to gain anything by the leak? The media say Trump does. I’m not so sure. He tweeted there were no questions about collusion, but at least one question asks what he knew about Paul Manafort reaching out to Russia. Another question refers to “any meeting with Mr. Putin.” Another asks what Trump may know about Jared Kushner trying to set up a back channel to Russia.

None of this would’ve been illegal nor improper. Trump was already elected president and setting up communications with Putin and/or Russia would be no more extraordinary than setting up communications with any other country. It’s just that Russia has been so vilified since the “witch hunt” began.

Remember when Hillary was hitting that reset button? There was nothing at all sinister about dealing with Russia then. It was only after the DNC claimed they were hacked by the Russians that anything Russian became suspect. By the way, we still have never seen the DNC servers to determine if they were hacked by the Russians or anyone else. The irony is the lawsuit filed by the DNC against Trump, Russia and others may force the DNC to produce those servers. We may yet learn definitively that no hacking happened.

But back to the leaked questions. If these really are questions Mueller wants to ask Trump then it’s troubling for the Trump legal team. Mueller isn’t going to ask any question he doesn’t already know the answer to. That means he has proof of the answer, either by wiretaps or other witnesses. If President Trump slips up on one tiny detail he could be facing a perjury charge, which is most definitely an impeachable offense. It’s what Bill Clinton was impeached over. He wasn’t convicted, of course, but this is a far different climate. There are plenty of Republican Never-Trumpers in the Senate who would jump at the chance to take this man down.

Then there are the people who claim Trump will be compelled to talk if he doesn’t agree to meet with Mueller. I would assume the same laws against forced self-incrimination apply to a deposition as they would in a court of law. That’s probably why Mueller and his team keep insisting that Trump isn’t the target of any criminal investigation. If you’re not the target then it’s more difficult to argue the self-incrimination angle. 

Whether they’re openly targeting Trump, make no mistake, he’s the ultimate goal. Manafort, Flynn, Papadopoulos, et al. are small fish. If that’s all Mueller has at the end of the day then this whole investigation was for naught. And knowing that Mueller already knows the answers to all the questions put to Trump only solidifies the fact that he is, in fact, the target. When you’re the target you don’t talk to the people targeting you.

President Trump is so eager to clear his name it’s almost a given that he’ll sit down with Mueller and his people at some point. He’ll be walking into a minefield. He has to be very careful where he steps.

Phil Valentine is a nationally syndicated talk radio host. Find him at philvalentine.com.

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