The president is reportedly under the impression that he is. Three possibilities:
1. This is pure fantasy invented by Trump to soothe his nerves over the investigation.
2. This is pure fantasy invented by Trump’s *lawyers* to soothe his nerves before he does something nutty like firing Mueller.
3. It’s true! POTUS knows something that we don’t, that Mueller’s Christmas/New Year’s present to the administration will be a public statement that Trump did no wrong.
Which is it?
Trump is boasting to friends and advisers that he expects Mueller to clear him of wrongdoing in the coming weeks, according to sources familiar with the conversations. The President seems so convinced of his impending exoneration that he is telling associates Mueller will soon write a letter clearing him that Trump can brandish to Washington and the world in a bid to finally emerge from the cloud of suspicion that has loomed over the first chapter of his presidency, the sources said…
“The President’s mantra is ‘All this Russia stuff, it’s all going to wrap up soon.’ He repeats it as fact,” said one source who speaks to Trump. “Part of me is like — ‘Are you serious? You believe this?'”…
Three sources familiar with the President’s recent conversations about the investigation said Trump has become convinced that he will receive a letter of exoneration, which would be unusual. One source worried Trump would have a “meltdown” if that doesn’t happen.
Option one contradicts the available evidence, with Mueller having just indicted Paul Manafort and struck a deal with Mike Flynn. There have been rumors in the papers that Mueller is looking at Trump for obstruction of justice, a charge to which Flynn’s cooperation may be critical. If anything, POTUS should have gotten more nervous about the probe lately, not less.
Option three also seems far-fetched. Mueller exonerating Trump now would be a higher-stakes replay of Comey’s public announcement last summer about recommending no charges be filed against Hillary Clinton. That was a break with DOJ protocol, which calls for silence from the Bureau on an investigation unless someone’s been indicted, and it bit Comey in the ass in the worst way in October when he had to re-open the investigation. Mueller would be wary of clearing Trump too soon for the same reason. What if he issues the sort of letter Trump wants and then Manafort comes to him a week later seeking a plea deal with evidence that there was collusion with Russia during the campaign and Trump knew all about it? And how would Trump have any idea of a “letter” in the first place? His legal team hasn’t even met with Mueller’s yet to get a sense of that. They might meet this week but it’d be a stupendous and uncharacteristic leak if someone from Mueller’s office were whispering to Team Trump that the special counsel is planning to exonerate him soon.
Realistically, if Trump’s destined to be exonerated, he’ll need to wait until the entire investigation has concluded and Mueller has issued his formal report about it and we’re surely months away from that. Which means the answer can only be option two: His lawyers are BSing him that maybe, possibly, conceivably they’ll meet with Mueller’s people this week and find out that charges are unlikely to be brought against the president. “Would they put that in a letter?” Trump may have asked them eagerly. “Er … sure, anything’s possible,” his lawyers may have answered, nervously side-eyeing each other. And before you know it, POTUS is telling people that a letter may be in the works. His legal team’s created a dangerous situation by raising Trump’s expectations that the probe is almost over, as he’s sure to react badly if it isn’t. “Lawyers for others involved in the investigation are … skeptical that Mueller is close to wrapping up his work,” notes CNN. When Mueller not only doesn’t formally clear Trump but files charges against, say, Jared Kushner, what happens then?
Someone’s going to get fired. Although it might not be Bob Mueller:
Advisers who have spoken recently with Trump about the Russia investigation said the president was sharply critical of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller operation — but did not broach the idea of firing Mueller…
Rather, Trump appeared to be contemplating changes in the Justice Department’s leadership. In recent discussions, two advisers said, Trump has called the attorney general “weak,” and complained that Rosenstein has shown insufficient accountability on the special counsel’s work. A senior official said Trump mocked Rosenstein’s recent testimony on Capitol Hill, saying he looked weak and unable to answer questions. Trump has ranted about Rosenstein as “a Democrat,” one of these advisers said, and characterized him as a threat to his presidency.
He’s been grumbling about Sessions’s recusal in the Russiagate probe, privately and sometimes publicly, for seven months. He’s gone so far as to tell reporters that he wouldn’t have nominated Sessions to be AG if he’d known he was going to hand off the Russia investigation to Rosenstein and Mueller. Palpably he wants to fire the guy, if not the old-fashioned way then the Trumpian way in which he makes life so miserable for a deputy who’s displeased him that he all but forces them to resign. Sessions seems to be enjoying his job enough to make it worth the sporadic humiliation, though, so Trump may have to drop the axe. The one-year anniversary of Sessions’s appointment isn’t far away; he could demand his resignation on that occasion and thank him for a year of service. That would give Trump a firmer grip on Mueller, since the new AG would become Mueller’s new supervisor, and Senate Republicans might tolerate it on the theory that if Sessions is destined to leave before Trump’s first term, he’s better off doing it when the GOP controls the Senate and can confirm his replacement.
Imagine the irony if Trump sent Sessions packing just a few weeks or months after the seat Sessions vacated in Alabama was won by a Democrat. Not only would Sessions suddenly be frozen out of government, the minority party would have picked up another vote in the upper chamber because of it. And they’d get some political mileage from the public backlash to Trump tinkering with the DOJ by firing Sessions after the Russiagate probe started heating up. It’d be an amazing own-goal by the White House.
According to the Daily Beast, POTUS has also been chattering behind the scenes about how nice it would be if he could sue some of the reporters who made embarrassing errors in their Russiagate reporting lately, most notably Brian Ross. I’m a little surprised he hasn’t sued. It’d be almost impossible for him to win given the high bar for public figures in defamation suits but he’d get some good base-pleasing PR out of it, i.e. “The president is fighting back against the fake-news media!” Journalists would help him out too by shifting immediately into self-righteous hyperbole about an “assault on the free press” because the White House dared to sue over an obviously erroneous and damaging bit of false reporting. Republican voters would drink the media’s tears greedily, which would make Trump happy since he’s always scrambling to stay on the right side of his base. No matter what it does to the rest of the country’s perceptions of him.