According to a report in Bloomberg, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is ready with “key findings” in the investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. The Mueller investigation has already generated indictments against 32 individuals and three companies, and generated guilty pleas on subjects from bank fraud to lying to the FBI. However, the special counsel’s office is supposedly standing by with results in two areas at the heart of the investigation: Did the Trump campaign conspire with Russian operatives, and did Donald Trump obstruct justice by interfering in the investigation?
Unlike 2016, when then FBI director James Comey issued a letter to Congress concerning the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server that demonstrably swayed voters in the last days before the election, Mueller appears to be sitting on these results until after the voters have their say. Even then, word that Mueller is ready to hand findings on these areas over to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein doesn’t mean there will be any public announcement. Mueller is not about to call a Comey-style press conference and harangue Trump on every channel. Instead these results will be presented in a confidential report. When they become public—if they ever become public—will likely be the responsibility of whoever Donald Trump seats as attorney general following the election.
Republicans have already made it clear to Trump that, come one minute after the polls close on Election Day, they’re ready to wash their hands of Jefferson Sessions. Former senator or not, they’re tired of Trump’s whining and ready to approve a new attorney general. Regardless of the outcome in the election, the first order of business in the lame duck sessions is likely to be 51 Republican senators giving a very quick affirmative to AG Whoever-Trump-Wants.
That new AG need not keep Rosenstein in place as the direct supervisor of the Russia investigation. Since Trump’s primary complaint about Sessions is that he recused himself from handling the investigation, it seems more than likely that, even should Rosenstein retain his seat, he won’t retain direct control of Mueller’s team. Any report issued after November 6 … may be the same as no report at all. Or may be as cherry-picked as Devin Nunes’s report from the House Intelligence Committee, leaving in only those results favorable to Trump while expunging any offenses.
If Robert Mueller actually does have results, whether those results implicate Trump or exonerate him, those results should be released now. Because it’s the best chance they have of not simply being stifled by Trump.
Among the people indicted by Mueller so far are four former members of Trump’s campaign: Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos. While the charges currently levied against them don’t include conspiracy to affect the outcome of the election, it’s known that all four did have contact with Russian operatives during the campaign. Mueller has also indicted 26 Russian nationals and three Russian companies, and the charges there have included conspiracy to affect the outcome of the election through the use of false identities, data theft, and direct intrusion into offices and systems used in administering the election.
It’s obvious that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russian nationals, that they were aware of information stolen from the DNC and others including the fact that it was stolen information, and that they coordinated with WikiLeaks and others to utilize this information to maximum impact. It’s also clear that data operations connected to the Trump campaign, including Cambridge Analytica and others, used illegally obtained information in targeting political ads and may have coordinated their attacks with troll farms and other tools used by Russian operatives.
There are more indictments in this area to come—the fact that people like Roger Stone and Aaron Nevins have not been indicted at this point indicates there are some pretty big shoes still to drop. But it is by no means a certainty that Mueller will determine that Donald Trump had enough direct knowledge of these events to constitute criminal activity. The public simply does not know the strength or detail of Mueller’s evidence, or what cooperating witnesses have told his investigators.
On obstruction, the case against Trump seems much more straightforward. No matter what executive authority Trump invokes for firing James Comey and others, it does not excuse incidents such as the Air Force One letter in which Trump authored a false cover story for the Trump Tower meeting hosted by Donald Trump Jr. Such incidents of directly misleading both the public and investigators aren’t in the scope of any executive, no matter how broadly interpreted.
While Justice Department guidelines should have caused Comey to hold off on his election-shaking letter until after the vote, no such guidelines are in effect at this point. Despite his now near interchangeability with the term Republican Party, Donald Trump is not on the ballot. So rules that say prosecutors should avoid actions that that could be seen as influencing the outcome should not apply.
However, Mueller has been a stickler for following guidelines, even when the application of the guidelines is questionable. And his investigation has been an airtight, hermetically sealed, all-but-leakproof machine. It is extremely unlikely he is going to break his silence in the next few weeks.
Which means that not only will the Senate be grappling with a replacement for Sessions in the days immediately after the election, they’ll be doing so with the fate of Mueller’s findings at stake. Though it’s a good bet that, should there be even one sentence of those findings that sounds exculpatory for Trump, that sentence will somehow land on Fox News … while the bulk of the report languishes in a steel box.