If you thought 2018 was lit, just wait a few weeks to see 2019 go off the hook. NBC News reported last night that several sources now expect Robert Mueller to finish his investigation by mid-February. The report will be interesting for all of the obvious reasons, but the timing might be intriguing too:
Special counsel Robert Mueller is nearing the end of his historic investigation into Russian election interference and is expected to submit a confidential report to the attorney general as early as mid-February, government officials and others familiar with the situation tell NBC News.
“They clearly are tying up loose ends,” said a lawyer who has been in contact with the Mueller team.
The sources either did not know or would not say whether Mueller has answered the fundamental question he was hired to investigate: Whether Trump or anyone around him conspired with the Russian intelligence operations to help his campaign.
It’s not the first indication that Robert Mueller might be wrapping things up. NBC notes that the rush to wrap up sentencing for cooperators over the last few weeks strongly suggests that Mueller doesn’t anticipate the need for testimony in court later on. The Washington Post made the same observation last week, although no one foresaw the debacle that would keep Michael Flynn’s sentencing from its conclusion. With Flynn, Michael Cohen, and George Papadapolous already sentenced or nearly so, there aren’t too many people left to use for testimony.
One name still outstanding is Roger Stone. Mueller appears to be targeting Stone for prosecution, perhaps to pressure him into cooperation and testimony. Or maybe just to prosecute him:
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III asked the House Intelligence Committee on Friday for an official transcript of Trump adviser Roger Stone’s testimony, according to people familiar with the request, a sign that prosecutors could be moving to charge him with a crime.
It is the first time Mueller has formally asked the committee to turn over material the panel has gathered in its investigation of Russian interference of the 2016 campaign, according to the people.
The move suggests that the special counsel is moving to finalize his months-long investigation of Stone — a key part of Mueller’s inquiry into whether anyone in President Trump’s orbit coordinated with the Russians. …
The special counsel could use the threat of a false-statement charge to seek cooperation from Stone, as Mueller has done with other Trump advisers, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn and longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
Another name that hasn’t yet made an appearance at all in the Mueller parade of potential cooperators is Carter Page, whose surveillance by the FBI touched off a firestorm of controversy. Sharyl Attkisson mused on that dog that hasn’t barked in the Mueller probe at The Hill:
We know Carter Page is a diabolical Russian spy because the FBI wiretapped him. Under our laws, FBI agents cannot wiretap a U.S. citizen based merely on suspicion or hunches, or to fish for information; they must possess hard evidence indicating the target is currently — or imminently about to become — a foreign spy. So the FBI would not have wiretapped Page if it couldn’t meet the legal evidence threshold. (At least they shouldn’t have.)
Page became a Russian spy after he assisted the FBI in a Russian spy case in 2013. It takes the most diabolical sort to be an asset for the FBI in one Russian spy case, and then to go on to become a Russian spy yourself! (At least that’s what the FBI claims.) …
Page is so diabolical that the FBI didn’t only wiretap him for a single cycle of several months. No, he was wiretapped over and over again. Obviously, the FBI would not have done this to a U.S. citizen — and the federal surveillance court surely would not have approved it — had there not been hard evidence of his criminal and treasonous intentions. (At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.) …
Clearly, all of this implies that the FBI’s efforts drew mounds of incriminating evidence enabling Mueller to quietly build an airtight case against the central figure in a wide-ranging conspiracy to change votes in Campaign 2016, at the direction of Donald Trump. We now await the indictments.
And yet …
As of now, Carter Page hasn’t been charged with so much as lying to the FBI or filing a faulty tax return, let alone Russian spying. He endured the most intrusive, intimidating methods the government has at its disposal. He was the subject of media leaks. His reputation was destroyed. If he’s never charged with being a Russian spy, he’s either that slippery … or it would suggest that the top intelligence officials who targeted him were either incompetent or corrupt. It would seem to border on criminal.
Those are a couple of loose ends that haven’t yet been tied up, although perhaps that will come when Mueller files his report. The “when” is of interest, too. Right now, the report will likely come to acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, who claims he’s been cleared by ethics officers to supervise Mueller, while the ethics officers have a different story. Now that William Barr has been nominated for the AG spot, his Senate confirmation will likely provide him with enough of a mandate to avoid recusing himself from supervising Mueller — even though Barr castigated Mueller in a memo to Rod Rosenstein for the obstruction part of the investigation.
Mueller will have a tough choice, depending on the timing of Barr’s confirmation. Does Mueller hope to allow Rosenstein handle the report? If so, he might need to get it to the Department of Justice before Barr’s confirmation and hope that Whitaker retreats on the recusal. The Senate probably can’t get a confirmation of Barr accomplished in the next session until mid-February at the earliest, which may be why NBC’s sources see that as the finish line.