Sunday, August 12, 2018

Mueller Should Stop Pussyfooting With Trump


It's clear that Donald Trump's legal team has no intention of allowing him to sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller. Frankly, I don't blame them. If you had this president for a client would you allow him to testify under oath before a prosecutor? I didn't think so. Rudy Giuliani may be a laughing stock, but he's no idiot, and neither is Jay Sekulow, the other half of this comedy team that has been making the rounds on the cable news talk shows. Abbott and Costello know they have a losing hand legally, so they're playing the only hand available to them: the political one.

Mueller should call their bluff now and end this charade before it goes on any further. Either he issues a subpoena to force Trump to testify before a grand jury or he concludes that he already has enough evidence to issue a report without his testimony. My money's on the latter, and here's why.

Let's assume Mueller goes through with a subpoena. Trump's team challenges it. The D.C. Circuit issues a ruling in Mueller's favor and it gets appealed to the Supreme Court. That means we won't likely get a decision until late September, maybe even early October - a month before the midterms. Just what the Democrats need, another issue for Trump's base to get all lathered up about. If it isn't guns, it's the deep state looking to remove their guy from office. Mad dogs don't have that much foam around their mouths.

Then there's the distinct possibility that if the Supreme Court rules against him, Trump will simply defy it. What exactly is Mueller going to do? Drag him out of the White House in cuffs? It would be unprecedented in American politics. If you think the electorate is polarized now, just try something like that. The whole country would go up in flames.

And, God forbid, what if the Supreme Court decides against Mueller? I know it's a stretch, but, hey, two years ago, the thought of Trump winning the presidency was also a stretch. We all know how that turned out. The specter of a ruling in their favor would give the conspiracy nuts the justification they've been looking for to proclaim the whole investigation a hoax. The fallout would make the toga party at Delta House seem like cramming for a mid-term exam.

This isn't Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen we're talking about here. We're talking about the President of the United States. We're talking about a man who has gone out of his way to hide his financial dealings from public view; who openly admitted to soliciting information on a political opponent from a foreign government - a violation of campaign finance law; who pressured FBI Director James Comey to ease up on the target of a criminal investigation; who publicly admitted in an interview with Lester Holt that he fired Comey over the "Rusher" investigation; who then went on Twitter and publicly called for his attorney general to end that very same investigation. That's called obstruction of justice, people. The White House has already publicly conceded that Trump's tweets are official policy. What more does Mueller need to make his case?

The point is there's not much, if anything, to be gained from issuing a subpoena, and potentially a lot to lose. Other than the spectacle of a sitting president being served with a subpoena, Muller has already connected most of the dots he needs to prove collusion, obstruction of justice and / or money laundering without Trump's testimony. Giuliani and Sekulow already know this. That's why they're trying to drag this out as much as possible. The longer they can delay Mueller's final report, the more they can sway public opinion in their favor.

And their strategy appears to be working. Though a plurality of Americans still believe in the integrity of the investigation, support has dropped almost 10 points in just the last two months. Who knows what might happen in another two months? While the court of public opinion will not decide the merits of this case, if only half the country approves of what Mueller is doing, that will only embolden Trump's enablers in Congress and make it that much harder to bring impeachment proceedings against him. And if Democrats fail to retake the House - a distinct possibility - Trump might well appoint a stooge who would oversee the investigation and end it. It could be years before we know the full scope of what happened. In other words, Trump might end up escaping the fate that befell Nixon.

That's why Mueller should give up negotiating with Trump's legal team and move on to the report phase of this investigation. Depending on how the Manafort trial goes and what information Cohen gives up - assuming he flips, which he will likely do - Mueller should be able to present his findings to Rod Rosenstein by Labor Day. At that point, the ball will be in the Deputy Attorney General's court. He can make it public, submit it to Congress or both.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Don Jr. and Jared Kushner get indicted and Trump himself named as an unindicted co-conspirator. If the case against Bill Clinton is any indication, there should be at least three articles of impeachment that will be recommended by the Justice Department. Trump will explode and likely fire Rosenstein, and perhaps even Sessions for not unrecusing himself, but by that point it'll already be too late. The American people will finally know the full scope of what happened and they'll be able to judge for themselves what course of action should be taken. If Republicans don't act, they will likely face the consequences come November. You want a wave? How about a tsunami?

Of course, if it turns out that Mueller still has some more rocks to look under - Roger Stone perhaps? - that's another story altogether. In that event, this thing may drag out into next year. We have to remember that there is a lot about this investigation we still don't know. That's because while Giuliani continues to run his mouth on Fox and Friends and Hannity, the prosecution has been the epitome of discipline. To date there hasn't been a single leak from Mueller's team. Virtually all the leaks have come from Trump's team, Trump himself or Congressional Republicans.

But barring that scenario, it's time Mueller stopped pussyfooting with this president. With or without his testimony, Trump has given him more than enough ammunition. I say pull the trigger and let the chips fall where they may.

Post Script: in an earlier version of this piece I wrote that Trump admitted in an interview with Lester Holt that he fired James Comey because he wouldn't let the Michael Flynn investigation go. In fact, Trump never admitted to that. What he said was the "Rusher" investigation was the reason he fired him. I have made the correction.

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