Lotta skepticism about this today, mainly because there’s lots of skepticism about everything Giuliani says at this point, but there’s some reason to believe it’s true. WaPo reporter Robert Costa claimed last month that Mueller’s office was hoping to submit its report on obstruction in June or July. If that’s true, and if Team Trump pressed them on it, it’s easy to imagine Team Mueller floating September 1 instead to give themselves a little extra time in August to dot their I’s and cross their T’s.
Mr. Giuliani said that the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, shared its timeline about two weeks ago amid negotiations over whether Mr. Trump will be questioned by investigators, adding that Mr. Mueller’s office said that the date was contingent on Mr. Trump’s sitting for an interview. A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment…
[B]y putting an end date on the obstruction inquiry, [Giuliani] is apparently seeking to publicly pressure Mr. Mueller to stick to that timeline and trying to assuage the president by predicting the inquiry will end soon, a strategy that some of his other lawyers tried, with mixed results.
What probably happened is that Team Mueller told Rudy that the sooner they interview Trump, the sooner the obstruction probe wraps up. How September 1 ended up in there as a target date is anyone’s guess. A source tells Reuters that it’s nonsense:
A source familiar with the probe called the Sept. 1 deadline “entirely made-up” and “another apparent effort to pressure the special counsel to hasten the end of his work.”
“He’ll wrap it up when he thinks he’s turned over every rock, and when that is will depend on how cooperative witnesses, persons of interest and maybe even some targets are, if any of those emerge, and on what new evidence he finds, not on some arbitrary, first-of-the-month deadline one of the president’s attorneys cooks up,” said the source, a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
That’s nice but reports have swirled for months that Mueller’s already all but done with the obstruction investigation. Bloomberg alleged that all the way back in January, for cripes sake. The lone remaining piece of the puzzle is Trump himself: What was his intent in nudging Comey to go easy on Flynn and then firing him? They want to hear it in POTUS’s own words. Once they do, it shouldn’t take long to put a bow on their conclusions.
Two other points from the Times story quoted above. Rudy openly admits that he wants the obstruction probe to boil down to a test of Trump’s credibility versus Comey’s credibility. That makes no sense if you’re trying to win over a majority of Americans, as more than one poll recently showed that people trust Comey more than they do Trump. But it makes lots of sense if your priorities have shifted from holding onto Congress in the midterms to holding onto the White House by ducking an impeachment attempt, which is what Trump’s priorities will do if and when Mueller publicly accuses him of obstruction. The more the obstruction probe is framed as an either/or choice between Comey and Trump rather than an assessment of the overall evidence amassed by Mueller, the harder it’ll be for Republicans in Congress to support impeachment. Even if they end up being swamped in the midterms, there’s no way there’ll be anything like 67 votes in the next Senate to remove Trump.
Speaking of the midterms, Rudy’s other point to the Times about the alleged September 1 deadline was that “waiting any longer would risk improperly influencing voters in November’s midterm elections.” Uh, what? Does Giuliani actually believe that the earthquake from Mueller nuking Trump on obstruction and the many political aftershocks that followed would subside within two months? Instantly the midterms would become a referendum on impeachment (which may not be a bad thing for POTUS and the GOP). Trump might panic and try to fire Mueller or Rosenstein or both. Foreign powers, uncertain of Trump’s prospects, might start to slow-walk negotiations with the U.S. for fear of coming to terms with a president who might not be there much longer. There would be tweets — lordy, would there be tweets — and endless news chatter. And any new collusion developments would be magnified by the obstruction charge, gaining more political weight that they’d otherwise have had.
In fact, you’re left wondering why Rudy didn’t insist on a deadline much, much sooner, if only for PR reasons. One weapon the White House will have if Mueller ends up accusing Trump of obstruction is to complain that those conclusions were published too close to the midterms. It’s Comey 2016 redux, springing a last-minute surprise to influence an election improperly. But if you want to make that argument, you should set the deadline as early as realistically possible to put maximum pressure on Mueller to keep his obstruction report in a desk drawer until the midterms are over. For instance, Rudy could have/should have said that in order to avoid affecting the midterms, Mueller’s report really should have been issued six or even nine months before the vote. Since those deadlines have already passed, Mueller would now be under pressure not to release the report until after Election Day. That’s another reason to think maybe the September 1 date did originate with Mueller’s team rather than with Trump’s: It’s much more favorable to Mueller in terms of potentially letting him off the hook for issuing a report late this summer than an earlier deadline would have been.