It’s beginning to look a lot like Fitzmas … At least that’s what ABC’s Jon Karl hears from his sources around the special counsel probe. Despite the sensational report from the New York Times that the FBI considered an investigative theory that Donald Trump was a Russian agent, Karl told the panel on yesterday’s This Week that people conducting business with Robert Mueller’s team don’t expect a sensation when Mueller’s done. Any report is “almost certain to be anti-climactic,” Karl concludes:
ABC News' Jonathan Karl on Mueller's upcoming report: "People who are closest to what Mueller has been doing, interacting with the special counsel, caution me that this report is almost certain to be anti-climactic." pic.twitter.com/DkFWGKNJyi
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) January 13, 2019
That’s likely to be the case for procedural as well as substantive reasons. David Corn did a good job of laying out the former (while noting that Mueller could still deviate from Department of Justice policies), but after nearly two years there’s not much of the latter either. Trump’s critics like to point out all of the indictments that Mueller has gotten from the grand jury, but none of them show any connection between Trump and Russian “collusion.” Except for the Paul Manafort/Rick Gates indictments — which relate to activities apart from and predating the campaign — the rest are either process crimes or indictments on foreign entities that have no connection to Trump or any collusion connections.
That won’t be the only thing fizzling out, either. CNN has the transcript of testimony by FBI leadership to Congress about their investigation of Trump, and it’s a bit less than what the New York Times was reporting too. Yes, the FBI had a hypothesis about Trump being a foreign agent, but they also had another that he was totally innocent, too:
In the chaotic aftermath at the FBI following Director James Comey’s firing, a half-dozen senior FBI officials huddled to set in motion the momentous move to open an investigation into President Donald Trump that included trying to understand why he was acting in ways that seemed to benefit Russia.
They debated a range of possibilities, according to portions of transcripts of two FBI officials’ closed-door congressional interviews obtained by CNN. On one end was the idea that Trump fired Comey at the behest of Russia. On the other was the possibility that Trump didn’t have an improper relationship with the Kremlin and was acting within the bounds of his executive authority, the transcripts show.
James Baker, then-FBI general counsel, said the FBI officials were contemplating with regard to Russia whether Trump was “acting at the behest of and somehow following directions, somehow executing their will.”
“That was one extreme. The other extreme is that the President is completely innocent, and we discussed that too,” Baker told House investigators last year. “There’s a range of things this could possibly be. We need to investigate, because we don’t know whether, you know, the worst-case scenario is possibly true or the President is totally innocent and we need to get this thing over with — and so he can move forward with his agenda.”
CNN also notes that while the probe started after Comey’s firing, it had been contemplated within the FBI prior to it. That would tend to substantiate the allegations from Trump and other Republicans defending him that the FBI had a pre-existing animus against him. Not only that, but also that their lean toward one hypothesis over another might be influenced by that animus.
Of course, if that’s the case, then perhaps it’s better to have that question in the hand of Mueller. As Karl notes, this special counsel result is likely to mirror those before it, such as Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA officer. There was a lot of talk about “Fitzmas” before the anti-climax in that probe provided more of a “fizzle-mas.” Don’t be surprised to see history repeat itself.