He’s all talk. I think?
There’s no explicit threat here to fire Mueller if he doesn’t meet Giuliani’s September 1 deadline. Nor is there an implicit threat, I think: Ryan and McConnell would have aneurysms if Trump blew up Russiagate weeks before the midterms.
The “threat” is less a threat than a sneak preview of Trump’s message this fall. If Mueller’s not done by September 1, and he won’t be, POTUS is going to hammer him every day until Election Day to try to get Republicans out to the polls. “Wacky Bob Mueller is saving his phony report for after the midterms in hopes that a new Democratic House will impeach me! We must stop this!”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller doesn’t have to shut down his Russia investigation in the weeks before November’s congressional elections despite claims by President Donald Trump’s lawyers that he faces a Sept. 1 deadline, according to current and former U.S. officials…
In an interview Tuesday, Giuliani said, “If he doesn’t get it done in the next two or three weeks we will just unload on him like a ton of bricks.” He added, “Write the damn report so we can see it and rebut it.”…
Justice Department officials have generally interpreted [DOJ] policy as meaning that major overt activities that could have a political impact shouldn’t be taken 60 days before an election. But that doesn’t prevent closed-door activities such as grand jury subpoenas and interviews of witnesses, and it doesn’t prohibit taking action after voters have made their choices…
Giuliani said the guidelines would preclude an interview of Trump during that time period. “They can’t be interviewing him privately,” he said. “Everyone will know they will be interviewing him and speculating like crazy.”
Rudy’s spent the last few weeks claiming that the DOJ’s own rules prohibit prosecutors from taking any major investigative steps in the 60 days before an election. Not true, as the Bloomberg piece linked above convincingly argues. The policy is that prosecutors should never be motivated by the timing of an election in how they proceed with an investigation. If an indictment is ready 10 days before a big vote because it just so happens that a grand jury handed one down at that time, then it’s ready. Prudentially, though, it would be ruinous for Mueller to drop a Russiagate bombshell so soon Election Day. Trump has spent months shrewdly framing the investigation as a political gimmick designed to damage him and his party. Any Comey-esque eleventh-hour revelations before the midterms would throw gasoline on that fire. Giuliani’s idea that somehow the DOJ’s own rules prohibit Mueller from doing anything, up to and including a private interview with Trump, in that 60-day window is itself fuel for the blaze. He may be lying about those rules, but plenty of people will believe the lie and view any steps taken by Mueller between September and November as not just illegitimate but illegal.
Via the Hill, Rudy’s getting into the Twitter game too to advance the idea that any extension of Russiagate past September 1 would be verboten:
CNN poll shows 66% say Mueller should complete his investigation before the upcoming elections. DOJ has policy to refrain from investigatory activity in 60 day period before election. DOJ should require Mueller to submit his report before September 7.
— Rudy W. Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) August 15, 2018
The second sentence is untrue, as noted. The first sentence is also untrue, as you’d know if you read this post yesterday. CNN’s poll found 66 percent agreed that Mueller should try to finish up before the midterms. They didn’t ask what consequences, if any, he should suffer if he fails to do so.
The third sentence reminds me of an idea I floated months ago, though. If Trump wants to fire Mueller, and he obviously does, the best way to go about it would be to set a firm deadline for him to complete his work. Any termination of the special counsel will detonate like a political nuclear weapon but Trump could shrink the blast radius if he framed it in terms of a neutral timetable rather than as a reaction to some unfavorable development in the probe. “It’s gone on too long, the country has been bitterly divided, we need to move past it,” he could say. “Therefore, the special counsel has until New Year’s Day to complete his work.” Once he says that, the ball’s in Mueller’s court. If he can’t wrap up before January then Trump pulls the plug. The backlash from the left will be ferocious, of course, but doing it this way will leave Republicans and even many indies solidly behind him. “Trump gave Mueller every chance to indict who he wanted to indict,” his supporters will argue. “Everyone agrees the investigation couldn’t go on forever.”
If Trump went the timetable route, he could even tack on a warning that Mueller should delay any major developments in the investigation after September 1 until after the midterms. That’d be riskier since he would have to be prepared to carry out his threat to fire Mueller if he defied the red line, even if it happened a week before Election Day, with unpredictable results. But any sort of red line is useful to Trump insofar as it puts Mueller in the position of choosing to cross it or not. If the line itself seems reasonable to the public then Mueller crossing it will seem unreasonable by definition, never mind that the president isn’t supposed to be laying down ultimatums to his own Justice Department about when it can and can’t indict people because it’s politically inconvenient to him. Anything that makes Mueller seem like the unreasonable actor rather than Trump benefits the president (which is why Trump flying off the handle and firing him in a rage after, say, Don Jr is indicted remains the White House’s nightmare scenario). Deadlines could help do that for him.