In filing a lawsuit accusing Russia, the Trump campaign, and WikiLeaks of a conspiracy to win the 2016 election, Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez says the party is standing up to Russian meddling in not just that contest, but the next one as well. “[When] you’ve seen attempted interference in the past, they’re going to do it again,” Perez told NBC News. “I’m punching back for democracy.”
The lawsuit is an outgrowth of the Democratic Party’s more than yearlong focus on Russiagate “above all else,” as a top Hillary Clinton aide once described it. This approach has definitively shaped both the resistance to Donald Trump and the media coverage of his presidency. Trump’s critics have clung to the hope that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will undo his presidency, leaving Democrats and pundits to focus less on White House policies than on its endless controversies and rotating cast of characters.
The newly leaked questions that Mueller intends to pose to Trump offer the most detailed look at his investigation to date. If Mueller has uncovered any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, he withholds it here. The vast majority of his questions are based on information that has already been made public. A possible exception is a question about “any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign.” The wording is vague; what does “potential assistance” mean, and does “Russia” mean the Kremlin or any Russian national? It could very well be the latter. We know that Manafort, while serving as Trump’s campaign manager, offered private briefings to a former business associate, Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, in what he says was part of an effort to collect on old debts.
Mueller also asks about the notorious Trump Tower meeting of June 2016, where Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya sat down with top campaign officials after offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. The meeting plays a central role in the hypothesis about how the Trump campaign and the Kremlin cooperated on the subsequent release of stolen Democratic Party e-mails. But Veselnitskaya’s pitch, as transmitted by music publicist Rob Goldstone, was for “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia,” not stolen e-mails, and the leaked questions offer nothing to indicate that Mueller has uncovered further information.