1 year into Russia probe, D.C. is rattled, uncertain
Washington – Unlike the president, Robert Mueller hasn’t uttered one word in public about his Russia investigation in the year since he was appointed special counsel. And that is rattling just about everyone involved.
What’s he up to? When will he bring the probe to an end?
He doesn’t have to say, and he’s not.
A year into the investigation, the stern-looking prosecutor is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. In that time, the breadth and stealth of investigations surrounding Trump have unsettled the White House and its chief occupant, and have spread to Capitol Hill, K Street, foreign governments and, as late as last week, corporate boardrooms.
With lawmakers eying midterm elections and President Donald Trump publicly mulling whether he will sit for an interview with Mueller, Republican calls are growing for the special counsel to end his investigation. Vice President Mike Pence and others have said it publicly. GOP lawmakers insist they’ve seen no evidence of collusion between Russians and Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
The longer the investigation runs, those calls are likely to amplify.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has steadfastly supported the special counsel, seemed to change his tone a bit Thursday.
“I think he should be free to do his job, but I would like to see it get wrapped up, of course,” Ryan said of Mueller. “I mean we want to see this thing come to its conclusion, but again I’ve always said he should be free to finish his job.”
Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the election, whether Trump’s campaign was involved and possible obstruction of justice. And by the standards of previous special counsel investigations, his actually has so far gone fairly quickly. Since he was appointed on May 17, 2017, Mueller’s office has charged 19 people and three Russian companies. He has charged four Trump campaign advisers, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The probe has also ensnared countless Washington insiders who have been called to testify or found themselves under scrutiny, including lobbyists and foreign representatives who may have illegally sought to influence the administration. Large corporations like AT&T and Novartis have been contacted by Mueller and caught up in an offshoot investigation into Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen. The companies acknowledged last week that they paid Cohen for “insight” in the early days of the Trump administration.
While Mueller himself still enjoys generally broad bipartisan support in Congress, particularly in the Senate, the secrecy of the investigation has created some anxiety about what is next.
“The American people are curious about what happened,” says Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. “And everything so far that has supposedly come out about it has been speculation and conjecture and rumor – and the truth is nobody really knows what Mr. Mueller and his team are thinking.”
The president’s lawyers have rushed to fill that vacuum, recently suggesting they’ve been told Mueller won’t indict Trump and couldn’t force the president to comply with an interview. Personal attorney Rudy Giuliani suggested that a recent conversation with Mueller’s team led him to believe the special counsel, citing a Justice Department opinion, had ruled out the possibility of trying to indict a sitting president.
Trump has seemed confident of that on Twitter, where he frequently throws barbs at the investigation – a strategy that is increasingly resonating with many Republicans. On Thursday, he marked the anniversary by calling the probe a “disgusting, illegal and unwarranted Witch Hunt.”
But while he calls for an end to the investigation, Trump’s own indecision over an interview remains the most visible impediment to a speedy conclusion of at least one key part.
Beyond that, the endgame remains unclear. A final report from Mueller could go to Congress.