Has Robert Mueller finished his probe? Does the timing of a report portend its content? A new Bloomberg report on Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe into Russia collusion sparks a lot of questions, but provides few answers — other than we may finally get an end to this shadow over the Trump administration, one way or another:
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections as he faces intensifying pressure to produce more indictments or shut down his investigation, according to two U.S. officials.
Specifically, Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry: whether there were clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and whether the president took any actions that constitute obstruction of justice, according to one of the officials, who asked not to be identified speaking about the investigation.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Mueller’s findings would be made public if he doesn’t secure unsealed indictments. The regulations governing Mueller’s probe stipulate that he can present his findings only to his boss, who is currently Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The regulations give a special counsel’s supervisor some discretion in deciding what is relayed to Congress and what is publicly released.
And … so? We knew that Mueller’s probe was getting closer to the finish line simply on the basis of time. However, we didn’t know where the finish line actually was. In that sense, the Bloomberg report from the famously insular special counsel office is news. Everyone, from Donald Trump on down, has tired of this question and wants to move on with the answers to whatever stage comes next.
Does the timing of a post-election release tell us anything? Some argue that if Mueller had anything on Trump, he’d put it out ahead of the midterms in order to keep voters informed. That, however, ignores Department of Justice guidelines that seriously discourage any reporting close to elections in order to keep the DoJ from being seen as partisan. The fallout from James Comey’s series of public revelations in 2016 would be enough of a reminder to a veteran professional like Mueller of the risk it would create to the credibility of his findings.
Bloomberg’s report even questions whether it means that Mueller has reached firm conclusions on the two biggest issues — collusion and obstruction of justice:
Mueller only recently submitted written questions to Trump’s lawyers regarding potential collusion with Russia, and his team hasn’t yet ruled out seeking an interview with the president, according to one of the U.S. officials. If Trump refused an interview request, Mueller could face the complicated question of whether to seek a grand jury subpoena of the president. The Justice Department has a standing policy that a sitting president can’t be indicted.
Nevertheless, Jodi Schneider thinks that it will wrap things up, thanks to the pressure now coming from both sides to either produce some indictments or shut it down. This looks like a deadline for either, or both:
Don’t forget, too, that the upcoming election doesn’t directly involve or impact Trump, although that’s only from a strictly mechanical standpoint. If Mueller drops indictments immediately after the election against Trump campaign officials for colluding with Russian intelligence, or reports that Trump obstructed justice, Democrats will howl with righteous indignation over Mueller’s refusal to air that while voters could consider it in their midterm choices. Holding onto a nothingburger conclusion until Thanksgiving might irritate Republicans, but they’d have less room to complain.
In that sense, perhaps one could conclude that Mueller would be more likely to wait on releasing a nothingburger than indictments, but don’t bet on it. The issue doesn’t really involve other Republicans, so Mueller can justifiably claim that any release before the midterms would be unjustifiable. If it does indicate wrongdoing on Trump’s part, though, Mueller would want to get that out before (a) he gets canned and (b) it’s too late for Republican challengers in the next primary cycle. Thanksgiving as a deadline makes a lot of sense in that regard.
One last issue: if Mueller’s this close to conclusions on the core issues of his probe, then cashiering Jeff Sessions or Rod Rosenstein makes little sense now. The report is coming in one form or another now no matter what. Trump’s recent vote of confidence in Rosenstein might be a better indicator of what’s coming than the timing of Mueller’s report, assuming Bloomberg’s got it right.