The intensity and ferocity of the attacks against the DOJ and the FBI are as clear a sign as any that Trump and his inner circle are afraid of the Russian investigation and of Robert Mueller. Is it secret guilt, concerns about their brand or an awareness of the political fallout from the probe itself? Whatever it is, Trump wants Mueller gone. He wants the investigation gone. And he’ll do anything to stop it, even if he has to tear down the US government to do so.
Even if Trump was innocent of all charges or even half the charges, he has done himself or the country he supposedly serves no favors. He has gutted the Republican Party of any semblance of decency, undermined public trust in everything from the media, to voting systems to his own intelligence services. He would rather believe Putin, a man who may have organized an assault on American democracy over the overwhelming evidence of the FBI, CIA, DOJ and foreign intelligence agencies all saying the same thing: Russia had a hand in all this.
Mueller’s investigation is in great danger every day. No one knows when the axe will fall or if it ever will. For now, common sense is prevailing for a while, even if it is based on the lie that Mueller is wrapping his probe. However, Mueller is far from done, but what could his next move be?
The short answer is no one knows. Right up until the story breaks, no one really knows what Mueller might do. His actions are kept a close secret and while there are hints and snippets, the only way we will know for sure is when Mueller makes his move. So far, he has indicted George Papadopoulos who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators as well as Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates. Michael Flynn agreed to cooperate with Mueller a few weeks later and now Mueller is requesting an interview with Donald Trump. So far, negotiations are still in progress and not going anywhere.
Part of the reason for that is that Trump’s legal team is worried about their client lying to Mueller and possibly endangering himself in the future. You only have to look at his Twitter feed to see that Trump is a constant liar and makes things up for his own purpose. Lawyers also fear that Mueller will seek to trap Trump, getting him to contradict himself. If he does, it’ll be game over for Trump. No amount of memos and PR campaigns will be able to help him then.
But Robert Mueller has other fish to fry. In fact, he has a whole host of options ahead of him. Behind the scenes, he is likely making inroads with members of Trump’s inner circle, both current and former members, to see if anyone is willing to follow Flynn and cooperate with the investigation. One option is Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist who frustrated a congressional hearing by refusing to answer questions. However, Bannon seems willing to talk to Mueller, with good reason. Bannon hates Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump with a passion. He will try to slander them, drag them into the dirt and in the process, lift the lid on what really happened in Trump Tower in June 2016.
Speaking of Kushner, most bets point to Kushner being the next person to be indicted or at least approached by Mueller. His indictment and possible confession would be a real help to Mueller. Being one of Trump’s closest advisors, he has a lot to talk about. Bannon even claimed in ‘Fire And Fury’ that Mueller would target Kushner through his financial dealings, a claim bolstered by the fact that Mueller now has access to Deutsche Bank records relating to both the Trump family and Jared Kushner.
Recently, however, a story has emerged that Mueller is looking into the story of a mysterious meeting at Trump Tower in July 2016 between Russians and top Trump campaign officials, more specifically, the news release that the meeting was about an obscure Russian adoption policy rather than its actual purpose: to obtain politically damaging information on Hilary Clinton. This puts Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., under the microscope for organizing the meeting as well as White House communications director Hope Hicks who helped put together the news release.
Mark Corallo, a former White House spokesman, has agreed to talk to Mueller about the events leading up the news release and about how closely the president himself was involved in putting the release together. You may wonder: what’s the point? We know the truth about the meeting’s purpose so what more does Mueller want to know? Besides, lying to the media isn’t a crime whereas lying to federal investigators is so why this new line of inquiry?
It’s hard to say. One option is that Mueller is looking into several charges. If Trump knew about the meeting and its purpose, given it his blessing or even just profited from it, it opens him up to probable collusion. His son is more vulnerable to that charge than his father which will put pressure on Trump to reveal the truth. Most likely, he’ll lash out at Mueller interrogating his son and try to protect him. Or he might throw his own son under the bus, just as he’s done with everyone else who has contradicted him on the subject of Russia.
Once again, we can only watch and wait for Mueller’s next move. It is quite possible that the recent attacks on the FBI, the DOJ, and his own investigation might provoke a sense of urgency. However, unlike Trump, Mueller is a careful and patient man. He knows better than anyone what would happen if he were fired and he knows where the investigation is leading him. He might even have enough evidence to indict the president himself, a scenario that some observers feel may happen if Trump refuses an interview.
A sitting president has never been indicted before although the question has come up and has, to some minds, been dismissed. However, a memo from Kenneth Starr’s independent counsel investigation into former President Bill Clinton last July rejected that claim. While it is unlikely that Mueller may go that far, Starr reported that “It is proper, constitutional, and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of, and are contrary to, the president’s official duties,” adding that no one, even the president, is above the law.
In the end, only Mueller and his team know what comes next. His opening moves caused panic in the White House and clearly spooked Trump. Whether it’s Bannon, Kushner, Hope Hicks or even Trump himself, the next act will be even more devastating, for sure.