Politico runs a column written by a former Senate Judiciary and White House lawyer, predicting Mueller’s next steps, and it seems best to prepare ourselves, for better or worse, for the most likely scenario.
As we have reported here before, Mueller is preparing reports in stages, the first to deal with obstruction. But, this prediction speculates that the next report (or two) will closely follow in the summer and not draw out later into the campaign season or beyond. This is lightning fast, as Watergate took over 2 years, Clinton’s scandal took 2.5. Mueller is dealing with a real crime (unlike Clinton) and could be finishing in less than a year and a half.
Robert Mueller is conservative in his approach, unlike Kenneth Starr. Starr believed you could indict a sitting president, but Mueller likely does not, or at least will not test it with this president. Besides, a good point is raised in that an indictment would take the matter into a “presidential rabbit hole” that will last years, working its way through the courts on even the question whether one can indict a sitting president. Instead, the reports will be detailed and addressed to Congress regarding what to do. I do not like this, because this Republican Congress will do nothing even if the charges include murder, and we both know it. But, it is the most likely scenario and we best plan for it.
Last basic tenet, remember that law is one where precedent matters, and the precedent is set, that one lie, under oath, qualifies a president for impeachment. Remember to remind each Republican Congressman of this precedent over and over as they act as Trump apologists.
That does not mean there will not be other indictments, ones possibly against Kushner, Bannon, and other White House actors is truly possible, though would be highly controversial. Controversy in how the special counsel goes about its duty is the one type of controversy that Mueller will attempt to shy away from.
So, first to expect:
Mueller’s principal product will likely be a comprehensive, detailed report and set of recommendations – just like the Starr Report of 20 years ago. But unlike the Starr Report, Mueller’s may never see the light of day. Under the special counsel regulations guiding his appointment, Mueller would submit his report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, not to Congress or the public. And under those regulations, his report will remain confidential unless Rosenstein decides to release it.
Okay, what will Rosenstein do? He will almost surely release the report himself.
Why do I predict Rosenstein will seek to release the report itself? Because he, like Mueller, has shown he is a by-the-books prosecutor who will wish to ensure that politics play no part in his decisions. Though he is a Republican appointed by two Republican presidents, George W. Bush and Donald Trump (he even served on Starr’s impeachment team), Rosenstein has been subjected to withering pressure from the White House and the Congress over the past year. Nevertheless, he has stood by Mueller and his investigation, even as he has sought to placate Trump where absolutely necessary. He will know that Mueller’s final report, whether it incriminates or exonerates, will be one of the most consequential documents of this presidency. It is almost inconceivable that someone with Rosenstein’s sense of integrity and service would sit on such a report.
Rosenstein has the extra challenge of protecting grand jury witnesses and FISA sources – boy does he ever – and so he must release it in a way that follows the rules all prosecutors follow in protecting certain witnesses. In doing so, he also will deprive the White House of some of its favorite ammunition, the FISA process and “spy gate.”
Rosenstein’s move to release the Mueller report will lead to his firing and perhaps another Saturday Night Massacre.
President Trump is unlikely to sit by and simply watch Rosenstein move forward with a potentially explosive report. Trump and his lawyers will exert every conceivable pressure on the deputy attorney general. Their goal will be to contain the report; to redact and reduce it; and, at the very least, to delay any release until after the midterm elections.
That seems almost pre-ordained. Trump will do all he can to keep the information from coming out. We are to recall the Nunes memo that go to the public with huge portions redacted, those portions are the portions detrimental to the White House, Trump will attempt to do the same with the Mueller report. If Rosenstein insists upon releasing the entire report, Trump will fire him, sure as the sun rises. Sessions will likely go, too. Keep in mind, Sessions has been more loyal to Rosenstein of late than he’s been to Trump, and Trump has all but begged Sessions to resign, publicly mocking him. Trump will use the matter as an excuse to fire Sessions.
That’s where Congress can be expected to finally step in and attempt to restore order. After all, Trump cannot fill either seat in without Senate consent, and the Senate may not consent without seeing the entire report released, unredacted. #Releasethereport will be the rallying cry throughout the fall and Congress, each member, will need to decide which side of the fence they will align.
Oh, and don’t assume that Trump has a 50-50 support, the latest Gallup poll shows Trump’s support at 40%, back down from the 45% last month, and headed in the wrong direction. The public’s reaction to spygate doesn’t seem to be going as well as some early polls seem to indicate.
That is Nelson W. Cunningham‘s best guess, you can offer yours in the comments.