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Were Trump’s own lawyers behind the ‘disgraceful’ leak of Mueller’s questions?

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders avoided questions about the leaked list of special counsel Robert Mueller's questions for President Trump. (Video: Reuters)

President Trump is fuming about the “disgraceful” leak of 49 questions that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III hopes to ask him in an interview.

“Clearly a leak by the special counsel's office,” Sean Hannity declared on his Fox News show Monday night, shortly after the New York Times published the questions.

The rightful target of the president's ire might be his own legal team.

The Times reported that the questions were “read by the special counsel investigators to the president’s lawyers, who compiled them into a list. That document was provided to the Times by a person outside Mr. Trump’s legal team.”

Based on the Times's account, we can conclude that the leak did not come from the special counsel's office — unless Trump's lawyers shared their document listing Mueller's questions with Mueller's investigators, which would make little sense.

It appears that one of two things happened: Trump's legal team was careless with the list, allowing it to fall into the wrong hands, or the president's lawyers orchestrated a James B. Comey-style disclosure through an intermediary.

The 7 most intriguing questions Robert Mueller wants to ask Trump

We can't completely dismiss the carelessness theory. After all, two of Trump's attorneys imprudently discussed their work within earshot of a Times reporter at a D.C. steakhouse in the fall, leading to this accidental scoop about the legal team's internal disagreements. Perhaps a Trump lawyer left the question list on a restaurant table.

There is reason to suspect that Trump's lawyers intended to make the questions public, however. The most likely motive for such a leak would be to dissuade the president from sitting down with Mueller. The Washington Post reported early last month that Trump was feeling confident after being told he was not then a criminal target of the investigation:

Other advisers, however, noted that subjects of investigations can easily become indicted targets — and expressed concern that the special prosecutor was baiting Trump into an interview that could put the president in legal peril.
John Dowd, Trump’s top attorney dealing with the Mueller probe, resigned [in March] amid disputes about strategy and frustration that the president ignored his advice to refuse the special counsel’s request for an interview, according to a Trump friend.

More recently, The Post reported that Trump became less inclined to grant an interview after the FBI raided the office, home and hotel room of his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Nevertheless, Trump's attorneys may remain concerned that the president will be tempted to sit for Mueller, believing he can talk his way out of any potential trouble. Leaking Mueller's questions to the Times — knowing the list of inquiries would be discussed at length on cable news — would be one way to try to hammer into Trump's head the possible risk.

The Post's Josh Dawsey reported last month that “aides sometimes plot to have guests make points on Fox that they have been unable to get the president to agree to in person.”

One senior administration official told Dawsey that Trump “will listen more when it is on TV.”

If Trump's lawyers have been unable to convince him that talking to Mueller would be a bad idea, then perhaps they decided to give TV a shot and make the questions public.