After more than 20 months of digging, issuing subpoenas, interviewing witnesses, getting indictments, making plea deals, and achieving felony convictions in federal court, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly nearing the end of his investigation into Donald Trump and his campaign for their connections to Russians during the 2016 election. Whether one week away or one month away, the Trump White House is said to be steeling itself for Mueller’s report. The end is near.
This article first appeared on Salon.
If neither Trump nor his henchmen have done anything wrong, he won’t have anything to worry about. But six men who worked for Trump in various capacities have pled guilty and have been sentenced to federal prison, or are awaiting sentencing, or have already served time. That’s not to mention the 26 Russian nationals, including 12 agents for the Russian intelligence service the GRU, who have also been indicted, along with several other individuals. There has been speculation for weeks that Mueller has more indictments to bring, and he has moved to delay sentencing for several Trump associates whom he is still interviewing or taking before his grand jury in Washington D.C., which recently received an extension of its term upon a request by Mueller.
But it’s not the report of the Special Counsel to the Attorney General that Trump should be worried about. The charter of Mueller’s investigation is narrow, limited to crimes arising out of Russian interference in the campaign of 2016 and the connections of Trump and his campaign to the Russians. Many have pointed out that the indictments Mueller has brought read like a complex narrative of the connections between the Trump campaign and Russians. We already know who stole the Democrats’ emails, how they were distributed, and who among Trump’s associates actually met with Russians during the campaign. What we don’t yet know is what took place during those meetings and whether Trump himself directed, participated in, or knew about these encounters, such as the infamous Trump Tower meeting between six Russians with connections to Kremlin intelligence and Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, then Trump’s campaign chairman.
Mueller is not going to make the mistake James Comey made as director of the FBI when he issued his report at the close of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private mail server during her time as secretary of state. In announcing that the FBI found that Clinton had committed no crimes, Comey tarred and feathered her politically, saying she had been careless and sloppy in handling her private emails.
Mueller is constrained by strict rules limiting what he can do and say as a prosecutor, and all indications are he will follow them to the letter.
He is unlikely to find that Trump committed no crimes, but report that boy, is he one shifty, lying, corrupt son of a bitch. Nor, according to legal experts, is he likely to go against Department of Justice rules and indict Trump as a sitting President. There remains the possibility that Mueller could issue new indictments outlining direct contacts between Trump campaign officials and WikiLeaks, or between Paul Manafort and the Russians through characters such as Konstantin Kilimnik, and depending on what he has learned from Trump people who are cooperating with him. He may include Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator.
You can be certain that anything done by Mueller at the close of his investigation short of an actual indictment of Trump will be celebrated by Trump and his people as an exoneration of the president. Even being named as an unindicted co-conspirator will be treated by the Trump base as a badge of honor. See! He was right all along! The deep state was out to get him!
While Trump shouldn’t be too worried about Mueller’s report, there are other things that should keep him up at night tweeting madly.
The first is that the close of Mueller’s investigation will mark the end of the “witch hunt.” Trump has beaten that drum more than 1,100 times over the past 20 months, according to The New York Times. He has used the Mueller investigation to keep his base riled up as much as he’s used the wall. Barring any serious legal consequences for Trump himself or members of his family like Donald Jr. and Jared, the end of Mueller’s investigation will leave a hole in the bass drum he’s being pounding to keep his poll numbers up.
Then there are the other investigations that are underway and will not be closing. There are probes into Trump, his company, his foundation, his campaign, his transition, and his inauguration in multiple jurisdictions including the Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of Virginia, and the District of Columbia. None of these investigations are constrained by the charter that limited what Robert Mueller could look into. There are no “red lines” to cross for the prosecutors who are looking into stuff like the Trump Moscow tower deal, the $107 million raised for Trump’s lame-ass inauguration, and the payoffs Trump made to porn stars and Playboy playmates to keep them quiet before the election. Not to mention the shenanigans Trump has run through his company and his foundation.
But the thing that should worry Trump the most is that when Mueller’s investigation ends, the muzzles come off the coterie of criminals Trump has surrounded himself with. As long as Mueller had people like Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, Felix Sater, and David Pecker cooperating with his investigation, they were constrained from what they could share with the Congress and the press about what they know.