The Mueller Probe May Be Closer to Ending Than We Know (Depending on How the White House Cooperates)

Bloomberg News is discussing the possibility that special counsel Robert Mueller’s expansive probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election may be near an end.

According to the report, Mueller is just short of completing his investigation into possible obstruction by President Trump. He still looks to interview the president, as well as his oldest child, Donald Trump Jr.

While he’s closer to finishing his look at potential obstruction, he may put that on hold and focus on several other issues: Collusion (a broad term that covers a lot of ground), and the hacking of those DNC emails.

There’s a strategy to working the investigation in this way.

Supposedly, to press in on the obstruction portion of the investigation – that which comes closest to Trump, himself – there’s a chance that witnesses may not be as willing to cooperate with the rest of the investigation. Also, there’s always that possibility that Trump becomes spooked and shuts down the investigation, all together.

Recent reports provide a glimpse into how expansive and aggressive Mueller’s investigation is. The New York Times and Washington Post, for example, suggest Muller’s team recently began probing efforts by the United Arab Emirates to influence the Trump team, including a meeting the Gulf kingdom apparently helped organize in the Seychelles where an informal Trump adviser also met with a Russian banker.

The Post also reported that Mueller has been asking about several Russia-related incidents involving longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, including his role in trying to help the Trump Organization build a tower in Moscow in 2015.

Don’t be surprised if we hear that Mueller’s team is also looking into the intercepted conversations with officials from Mexico, China, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, where they discuss Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s money troubles, and how those troubles could be used to manipulate the White House senior adviser to their advantage.

I’d certainly be shocked if that’s not the case.

Kushner has somehow been a figure in so many of the scandals coming from the first year of the Trump presidency, including being a part of the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer and ambassador in June 2016.

When it comes to the obstruction portion of the investigation, Mueller is said to be focused on three main episodes: Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey last May; the drafting of a misleading statement about the purpose of a June 2016 meeting between Don Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and a group of Russians at Trump Tower; and the disclosure that Trump considered firing Mueller last June.

See? Kushner.

And the firing of Comey was always going to be a thing. It may be the main thing, as far as an obstruction charge, and that’s nobody’s fault but Trump’s.

Trump’s team had a reasonable explanation for Comey’s firing, but he couldn’t just let it go.

Trump appeared on NBC News with Lester Holt shortly after Comey’s firing, and only a day after he sent National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster out to say Comey was fired for how he handled the Clinton email scandal.

In that interview, Trump said to the world that Comey was fired because of the “Russia thing.”

And let’s be fair: Comey needed to go. The way the Clinton investigation was handled was the absolute WORST. It wasn’t just Comey, but everybody involved in that investigation are complicit, on some level, of letting her slide in her corruption.

It was one of those maddening scenarios that became commonplace in the Obama “not one smidgen of corruption” administration.

That being said, Trump was apparently far less worried about Clinton skating than he was the Russia probe. He could have given Comey a nice fruit basket, thanked him for his service, and shooed him out the door, without another word. That was he prerogative, as an incoming president.

Trump has been his own worst enemy through the course of this investigation, acting like a guilty man with the hot breath of justice on the back of his neck.

Mueller’s team of FBI agents and prosecutors has already interviewed people who could provide firsthand knowledge of possible obstruction of justice, including Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers.

At least 3 of those 5 are people Trump has gone out of his way to alienate, harass, provoke, and demean.

I’m not saying they have anything on him. I am saying that if either of them did have anything on him, he hasn’t exactly worked to ensure their loyalty.

So what does Mueller have under his belt, at this point?

According to Bloomberg, Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, is now a cooperating witness. He has interviewed more than 4 dozen White House and campaign aides. He’s also requested more than a million pages of documents.

He may still be looking to interview Ivanka Trump and longtime Trump bodyguard, Keith Schiller, as well as further interviews with Kushner.

Three episodes have also caught Mueller’s attention, as far as any obstruction charges:

Just before firing Comey, Trump and his entourage spent a weekend at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club.

Traveling with Trump that weekend was then-Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland, a Flynn ally; senior adviser Stephen Miller; then-White House communications director Hope Hicks, social media director Dan Scavino; Kushner; and Ivanka Trump.

That Sunday morning in Bedminster, Trump publicly aired his frustrations on the Russia probe, tweeting: “Why did the Obama Administration start an investigation into the Trump Campaign (with zero proof of wrongdoing) long before the Election in November? Wanted to discredit so Crooked H would win. Unprecedented. Bigger than Watergate! Plus, Obama did NOTHING about Russian meddling.”

Mueller also wants to examine the events surrounding a misleading statement from Trump Jr. to the New York Times, regarding the Trump Tower meeting.

The statement — crafted aboard Air Force One by Trump, Hicks and Kushner spokesman Josh Raffel and relayed to Trump Jr. — portrayed the meeting as being mostly about Russian adoptions. Emails later released by Trump Jr. showed an organizer told him the Russians would produce damaging information on Clinton. The White House has said of the statement that Trump “weighed in, as any father would, based on the limited information that he had,” while on a return trip from Germany.

Corallo told investigators that in a phone call with Hicks and Trump raising concern about the statement Hicks insisted the emails would “never get out,” which Corallo found deeply naive, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Yeah. Hicks later was involved in crafting a deceptive message of support for her wife-beating boyfriend, Rob Porter, and it ended up being a public relations nightmare for the White House, once the story of Porter’s former wives, complete with photos of a wife with a swollen, bruised face was released publicly.

The. Best. People.

The third episode would be news that Trump had contemplated firing Mueller to end the investigation.

Trump wanted to fire Mueller in June, three people familiar with the matter said, raising concern among his top aides and closest supporters that Trump would put himself in legal jeopardy. Trump ultimately relented after White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to carry out the order and made clear he’d resign rather than acquiesce.

Trump has raged at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe and making way for his Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint Mueller. He feels Sessions’ job was to protect him, but that’s just not reality. Sessions knows it, but Trump isn’t that swift. Or ethical.

It’s an interesting strategy from Mueller. His work is funded through 2019, but if he gets what he’s asking for, we may see an end to this thing before then.