Washington (CNN)Questions about President Donald Trump's business activities in Russia prior to the 2016 campaign would go beyond special counsel Robert Mueller's mandate, former independent counsel Ken Starr said Wednesday.
Ken Starr says Mueller may be overstepping his mandate
"I think it's beyond his mandate. The mandate is what happened during the 2016 election in terms of collusion. That's the key idea," Starr, who led the 1990s investigation into President Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment, told CNN's "New Day."
Investigators for Mueller have recently been asking witnesses about Trump's business activities in Russia prior to the 2016 presidential campaign as he considered a run for president, three people familiar with the matter have told CNN.
Questions to some witnesses during wide-ranging interviews included the timing of Trump's decision to seek the presidency, potentially compromising information the Russians may have had about him, and why efforts to brand a Trump Tower in Moscow fell through, two sources said.
The lines of inquiry indicate Mueller's team is reaching beyond the campaign to explore how the Russians might have sought to influence Trump at a time when he was discussing deals in Moscow and contemplating a presidential run. Trump has said he would view any investigation of his or his family's personal finances as a "violation" by Mueller that crosses a red line.
How Rosenstein should handle the probing into Trump's businesses, Starr suggested, should be "a judgment call" which "could be handed off" from Mueller to another Justice Department employee.
"It might be a complete outgrowth of what's happened," Starr added. "But it has nothing to do with collusion and the campaign."
Starr defended Mueller's integrity Tuesday night on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," describing the former FBI director as a "total professional."
He also disagreed with the contention made by CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin that Trump's decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey was evidence of corruption and said he didn't think any crimes had been committed.
"It's not Bob Mueller's prerogative to determine what an impeachable offense is. I did have that responsibility as the independent counsel," Starr said.
But when asked by Cooper if Mueller's investigation was a "witch hunt" -- a claim frequently made by Trump -- Starr, whose comments on having not yet seen any evidence of collusion were recently cited by the President himself, simply replied, "No."