How would Adam Schiff know? Robert Mueller may soon bring his special-counsel probe to a close, and it appears that the end will come without Donald Trump getting interrogated in person — either in a deposition or in a grand-jury proceeding. The House Intelligence Committee chair told Chuck Todd on yesterday’s Meet the Press that Mueller’s making a mistake in letting Trump off the hook with only written responses:
CHUCK TODD:You know, it looks like, we don’t know this for sure. But it looks like Robert Mueller’s going to complete his investigation without subpoenaing the president before the grand jury or coming up with a way to have him interviewed before the grand jury. President Clinton went before Ken Starr’s grand jury. In hind– If indeed Mr. Mueller decides not to issue that subpoena or figure out how to get the president in front of that grand jury, is that going to have been a mistake considering we have so many questions about who — whose testimony should you believe: Michael Cohen’s or Donald Trump’s?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF:Yes, I think it is a mistake. And I’ve said all along that I don’t think Bob Mueller should rely on written answers. When you get written answers from a witness, it’s really the lawyers’ answers as much as the client’s answer. And here you need to be able to ask follow-up questions in real time. But I think the constraint that Bob Mueller’s operating under is he had an acting attorney general who was appointed because he would be hostile to a subpoena on the president. And now he has a permanent attorney general who was chosen for the same hostility to his investigation, who would likely oppose that step. I also think that the special counsel feels some time pressure to conclude his work. And knowing that the White House would drag out a fight over the subpoena, that may be an issue as well. But I do think ultimately it’s a mistake because probably the best way to get the truth would be to put the president under oath. Because as he’s made plain in the past, he feels it’s perfectly fine to lie to the public. After all, he has said, “It’s not like I’m talking before a magistrate.” Well, maybe he should talk before a magistrate.
The special counsel has made it clear that he doesn’t face any time pressure. He’s been on the job 22 months, picking up the remains of a counterintelligence investigation that started nearly three years ago. There is no limiting statute on the length of Mueller’s investigation, and no real political limit either. Attorney General William Barr and Trump himself have the authority to end the investigation, but it would be political suicide to fire Mueller, and both know it.
A more likely explanation for Mueller’s lack of insistence on in-person interrogation is that his investigation has produced no public evidence of a foundation for it. Mueller has filed a lot of indictments, but none that relate to collusion with Russian intelligence on their efforts to influence the 2016 election. Maybe Mueller has more that has yet to have been made public, but one would have expected to see such evidence reflected in indictments of others involved in such collusion. Without any such evidence, the fight over a grand jury subpoena would almost certainly be a loser; a court is not going to grant roving prosecutors subpoena power over presidents simply for fishing expeditions.
It sounds as if Schiff is starting to believe that Mueller won’t have much to deliver in his final report to Barr. Speaking of which, ABC News reports today that senior Justice officials are already setting expectations about how the report will be handled:
Two senior Justice Department officials are privately dismissing claims by House Democrats that refusing to share special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report and other investigative materials with Congress would amount to a “double standard.”
The circumstances that led the Justice Department to disclose investigative information in other recent, high-profile cases now being cited by Democrats are “just not the same” as the circumstances surrounding the Mueller probe, one senior department official insisted to ABC News, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
That official and another high-ranking Justice Department insider both pointed to what they see as one big difference: former FBI director James Comey.
House Democrats will cry foul after seeing the DoJ release over 800,000 pages of documents to Congress from the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe. That was done, ABC’s sources say, because the DoJ concluded that Comey “had in effect waived that privilege” with his public pronouncements about what the investigation found. Since that time, Justice officials have repeatedly reiterated normal policy on dealing with information on unindicted Americans, most recently by Rod Rosenstein two weeks ago today.
If Mueller follows the statute and DoJ protocols, though, it’s likely to be a moot point. If Mueller isn’t putting collusion into indictments, it won’t be in the final report either. That leaves Trump off the hook, as Schiff fears, and Democrats holding the bag after two years of promoting the investigation as the end of the Trump presidency.