The fact that Mueller is working on “parallel tracks,” investigating Trump for obstruction on the one hand and Russian campaign activities on the other, and that he might issue reports on his findings “in stages” was already noted in the Washington Post last night. What that story *didn’t* mention is that Mueller’s office has a specific timeframe in mind. Reporter Robert Costa, who co-wrote the WaPo story, saved that detail for MSNBC:
More info: Mueller team wants to release report on Obstruction investigation, incidents during President's time in office this June or July. AND THEN they continue with collusion probe. Hot Summer. pic.twitter.com/tFQHd9yZ4y
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) April 4, 2018
It’s possible, in other words, that Bob Mueller is going to issue a report asserting that the president of the United States committed obstruction of justice around 12 weeks or so before the midterms. If that happens, all hell will break loose. Trump might try to fire Mueller immediately, arguing that because his conclusions on obstruction are dubious, his conclusions on Russia and collusion will surely be dubious too. So he’ll drop the axe, Ryan and McConnell will run for cover, and Democrats will scream that a constitutional crisis is afoot. Even if Trump doesn’t fire Mueller and takes the report in stride, a finding that obstruction occurred will create a mushroom cloud over the midterms. To the extent that November wasn’t already set to be a direct referendum on Trump’s first two years in office, an adverse determination by Mueller will make it so. The election will become a struggle over impeachment, with Democratic voters swarming the polls to install a House that’ll nuke Trump and Republicans swarming the polls to prevent that outcome. Total hysteria.
If, that is, Mueller’s report sees the light of day. It’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t given how intense public interest will be but the special counsel’s office has seemingly been leak-proof thus far. And Mueller doesn’t owe his report to the public, he owes it to Rod Rosenstein confidentially, as WaPo noted last night. If the report accuses Trump of obstruction, what does Rosenstein do? Publish it and set off a political atomic bomb? Try to keep it confidential knowing that it could leak at any moment and Rosenstein would suddenly be bashed for covering for his boss? Trump would need to be informed of Mueller’s findings, presumably, and since the White House leaks like a sieve, someone in his inner circle would whisper to the media about the conclusions. There’s no way to defuse the bomb if Mueller lights the fuse and alleges probable cause to believe obstruction occurred. Rosenstein might as well go public. And then, in addition to all the other hell described above breaking loose, we’ll have the additional hell of Rosenstein probably getting fired (and maybe Sessions too) with chaos at the top of the DOJ.
Possible solution: Mueller could simply table his report on obstruction and wait until the investigation on Russian meddling is over before releasing everything at once. That probably means we’d see nothing before the midterms one way or another, which would defuse the bomb (for now). But there’s a problem with that. Trump has been begging to be exonerated by the Justice Department ASAP for months. That was his main gripe with Jim Comey: Although Comey told him privately several times that he wasn’t under investigation (yet?), he wouldn’t say so publicly. Trump’s legal team even dangled the prospect of a presidential interview at Mueller not long ago in return for a solemn promise to wrap up the obstruction investigation within 60 days after. That’s how eager they are for this to end. And you can understand why. POTUS wants to get out from under the cloud of Russiagate, at least with respect to his own culpability. It’s a constant distraction. *If* he’s as innocent as he claims, nothing would suit him better than to have Mueller clear him as quickly as he’s able to. Mueller owes that to the country, in fact. Whether Trump is innocent or guilty, America deserves to know if its president is or isn’t in criminal jeopardy with all due speed. So that’s what Mueller’s going to do, whatever that means to the midterms.
There’s one more possibility. Mueller could, of course, end up clearing Trump on the obstruction charge. What would that do to the midterms? It can only help the GOP, one would think. Trump would probably get a bounce in the polls as the cloud of suspicion over him lifts for some centrist voters and Democratic enthusiasm to put Pelosi and her impeachment attack dogs in charge of the House would wane. We might still see a blue wave, but conceivably something less than tidal.
Per WaPo, Mueller’s waiting to hear from the president himself before wrapping up the obstruction inquiry. “Mueller reiterated the need to interview Trump — both to understand whether he had any corrupt intent to thwart the Russia investigation and to complete this portion of his probe,” last night’s story claimed. In other words, he seems to be agreeing to the offer Trump’s own team made before albeit without a firm 60-day timetable: Sit for an interview now and the obstruction investigation will be over soon-ish. From Trump’s perspective, though, that seems like a strong incentive *not* to talk to Mueller. If the special counsel is currently unsure of the president’s intent to obstruct, it’s best not to speak to him and let him go on being unsure. That way, how can Mueller recommend charges? Even if he concludes that there’s probable cause to believe Trump intended to obstruct the investigation, Trump can always counter by saying that Mueller can’t really know that since they never had an interview. Plus, if Trump gives him a definitive no on answering questions, maybe Mueller will finish the report early and submit it before summer. The sooner that’s done, the more time the electorate will have to process the findings and settle down before fall if the findings are no bueno.
Anyway. I’m sure this will all be wrapped up soon.
Exclusive: In an unusual step, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is questioning Russian oligarchs who traveled to the US, including asking whether illegal cash donations were funneled into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and inauguration https://t.co/WmElI6d8K3 pic.twitter.com/fo5xdPsojQ
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 4, 2018
Here’s Trey Gowdy last night on CNN encouraging Trump to do the interview, which is terrible legal advice. I know he’s a former (and maybe future) prosecutor and sticks to the line that the innocent have nothing to hide, but that’s garbage. POTUS would be a sucker to listen to him. Exit question: Can Trump be guilty of obstruction by offering a pardon to Paul Manafort or Mike Flynn when the president’s constitutional power to issue pardons is absolute? Maybe!
Rep. Trey Gowdy says he thinks President Trump should talk with special counsel Robert Mueller: "If you have nothing to hide … sit down and tell him what you know" https://t.co/o9VF7cWPCn https://t.co/4KxX6rdjKD
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 4, 2018