A former senior Justice Department official who helped write the special counsel regulations predicted Thursday what Robert Mueller's report to the attorney general will look like — and why Donald Trump is damned regardless of what it says.
Former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal wrote in a New York Times op-ed that in a different political environment where Mueller was the only person investigating the president, "the pressure for a comprehensive report to the public would be overwhelming."
But in this climate, with Trump and his team's incessant attacks against the special counsel, "the investigation resembles the architecture of the internet, with many different nodes, and some of those nodes possess potentially unlimited jurisdiction."
"Their powers and scope go well beyond Mr. Mueller’s circumscribed mandate; they go to Mr. Trump’s judgment and whether he lied to the American people," Katyal wrote. "They also include law enforcement investigations having nothing to do with Russia, such as whether the president directed the commission of serious campaign finance crimes, as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have already stated in filings. These are all critical matters, each with serious factual predicates already uncovered by prosecutors."
If Trump and his team did nothing wrong, they'd "have little to fear" from Mueller because, as the former solicitor general noted, prosecuting collusion and obstruction is "enormously difficult" and a report clearing the president of wrongdoing would be the end of it.
"But Mr. Trump’s behavior, particularly his dangling of pardons to witnesses in the investigation, makes total exoneration unlikely," Katyal noted. "The investigation has been further clouded by the fact that people in Mr. Trump’s inner circle lied repeatedly when it came to Russia (that long list includes Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone)."
Because the president has so publicly derided the special counsel, it's likely that Mueller will "issue a more limited, by-the-book report, which will spawn further investigation" — and continue to turn some matters of his investigation over to other prosecutors with broader investigative powers and less public scrutiny.
Though there's currently no impeachment inquiry open, there could be one incoming if Mueller "writes a report that is anything less than a full clearing of the president," Katyal wrote.
Mueller's mandate did not include investigation of many impeachable offenses, the former senior DOJ employee noted — but depending on the content of his report, Congress would be obligated to investigate those that may be left out of it.
"This is where Mr. Mueller’s 'by the book' behavior may be initially unsatisfying to Mr. Trump’s critics," he concluded, "but ultimately more threatening to the president in the long run."
Read the entire Katyal editorial via the Times.