They don’t call him “President Deals” for nothing!
There’s no hard proof of a deal, just an isn’t-this-interesting coincidence. It’s possible that the Ukrainian government seized the initiative to stop cooperating with Mueller as a way to win Trump’s favor, without any request by him or the White House to do so. If you lay awake at night in Kiev worried that the new Russia-friendly American president will abandon you to Moscow, you’re naturally looking for splashy ways to keep him on your side. Telling Bob Mueller to buzz off with his “witch hunt” is one way.
Even so I’ve been pointing to Trump’s missile deal with Ukraine for the past few months as Exhibit A in how the collusion accusations against him are overblown. If he were buddy-buddy with Putin, would he be sending anti-tank (i.e. anti-Russian) missiles to Russia’s enemy? Possible answer: Maybe, if doing so actually helped stop Mueller from finding out about the buddy-buddy thing.
The State Department issued an export license for the missiles on Dec. 22, and on March 2 the Pentagon announced final approval for the sale of 210 Javelins and 35 launching units. The order to halt investigations into Mr. Manafort came in early April.
Volodymyr Ariev, a member of Parliament who is an ally of President Petro O. Poroshenko, readily acknowledged that the intention in Kiev was to put investigations into Mr. Manafort’s activities “in the long-term box.”
“In every possible way, we will avoid irritating the top American officials,” Mr. Ariev said in an interview. “We shouldn’t spoil relations with the administration.”…
In another move seeming to hinder Mr. Mueller’s investigation, Ukrainian law enforcement allowed a potential witness to possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to leave for Russia, putting him out of reach for questioning.
The now-stalled Ukrainian investigations into Paul Manafort’s dealings with Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president and Putin crony, would have been useful to Mueller in prosecuting Manafort but maybe not useful in proving collusion — or so we might have concluded until a few days ago. The Manafort and collusion strands of the Russiagate investigation had been entirely separate until someone leaked Mueller’s questions for Trump to the NYT this week. The most noteworthy question: “What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?” Were the Ukrainians nervous that their own probe of Manafort might have turned up evidence of his coordination with Moscow when he was in charge of Trump 2016? There’d be no faster way to earn Trump’s animosity.
I hope for POTUS’s sake that if there was some quid pro quo with Ukraine here, he had the basic nefarious good sense to keep his fingerprints completely off it. Mueller would probably be interested in a “missiles in exchange for obstruction of justice” bargain orchestrated from the Oval Office, I’m thinking. On the other hand:
If Trump doesn't confront Russia, it's proof that he's in their pocket.
If Trump confronts Russia, it's proof he's covering up that he's in their pocket.
— Drew McCoy (@_Drew_McCoy_) May 2, 2018
Was Trump told that Ukraine had tabled its investigations of Manafort before he approved the missile sale? If not, his enemies are going to end up unfairly twisting something he did to thwart Putin into evidence of collusion between them. “What did the president know and when did he know it?” would be useful information to have before the media takes this Ukraine angle and runs with it.
While we’re on the subject of Mueller, a question raised by the news this morning that Mueller might subpoena POTUS: What if he … grants Trump immunity? A subpoena showdown would unfold predictably until the final stages. Mueller would invite Trump for an interview; Trump would decline; Mueller would get aggressive by slapping him with a grand-jury subpoena; Trump would contest the subpoena in court, asking a federal judge to rule that he can’t be made to testify; and eventually SCOTUS would decide the issue, with a million tons of pressure on Neil Gorsuch as the potential deciding vote. Even if Trump lost and the subpoena stood, he could still refuse to testify by waltzing into court before the grand jury and pleading the Fifth. That would stink to high heaven as a political matter but as a legal matter it would achieve his goal of not telling Mueller anything…
…unless Mueller grants him immunity. What does Trump do then?
What is the process for getting an immunity order? The U.S Attorney’s Manual requires that prosecutors seeking to grant use immunity to a witness must obtain the approval of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (and if subsequently they want to prosecute someone who has testified under a grant of use immunity, they must obtain the permission of the Attorney General himself or herself). Grants of immunity are issued by a judge, on application of the government. Perhaps most importantly for Trump and his lawyers: a grant of use immunity does not cover the commission of perjury during the testimony itself. Therefore, to the extent Trump’s lawyers are counseling him not to testify because they are afraid he will lie, that danger would still exist if he were compelled to testify pursuant to an immunity order.
If POTUS gets immunity, he can’t refuse to testify. And if he perjures himself on the stand, he can’t use the immunity grant to beat that charge. Alex Whiting, who wrote the passage in the excerpt, notes that normally a prosecutor wouldn’t dream of immunizing the big fish at the center of the investigation — that’s the guy you’re hoping to indict, right? — but in this case indictment is an unlikely remedy to begin with. Some law profs would tell you that a president can’t be indicted; the only remedy is … impeachment. If Mueller thinks forcing Trump to testify might produce an admission of impeachable offenses, why wouldn’t he immunize him? Squeeze him, then hand it all off to the House and let them decide.
The only thing I know for sure is that this legal and political freak show can’t and won’t end until Trump ends up pardoning himself. It’s gonna happen and we all know it. In fact, my best guess right now is that Mueller will immunize him, Trump will refuse to testify and be found in contempt, then he’ll pardon himself on the contempt charge. And his job approval will rise 10 points overnight among Republicans because that’s just how we roll now.
Exit question: Actually I’m wrong because Mueller will be fired as soon he subpoenas Ivanka, right?