Monday, November 20, 2017

It's Mueller Time, Con't

The biggest question in Washington right now is the identity of Robert Mueller's next indictment targets and their timing.  Mueller's team has so far done a stellar job of keeping those cards close to their vests, befitting his company of hand-picked all-star federal prosecutors, but the hints we've learned from and since the first round of indictments points towards two places, the first being the Trump White House itself.

Six months into a special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, White House aides and others in President Trump’s close orbit are increasingly divided in their assessments of the expanding probe and how worried administration officials and campaign aides should be about their potential legal peril, according to numerous people familiar with the debate.

Some in the West Wing avoid the mere mention of Russia or the investigation whenever possible. Others take solace in the reassurances of White House lawyer Ty Cobb that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will be wrapping up the probe soon and the president and those close to him will be exonerated. And a few engage in grim gallows humor, privately joking about wiretaps.

The investigation reached a critical turning point in recent weeks, with a formal subpoena to the campaign, an expanding list of potential witnesses and the indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. Some within Trump’s circle, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus, have already been interviewed by Mueller’s investigators, while others such as Hope Hicks — the White House communications director and trusted confidant of the president — and White House counsel Donald McGahn are expected in coming weeks.

One Republican operative in frequent contact with the White House described Mueller’s team “working through the staff like Pac-Man.”

Of course they are worried,” said the Republican, who insisted on anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “Anybody that ever had the words ‘Russia’ come out of their lips or in an email, they’re going to get talked to. These things are thorough and deep. It’s going to be a long winter.”

The smart money remains on former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and his son being rolled up, unless of course the Flynns are already cooperating.  And while Mueller is definitely moving up the ladder towards Trump himself and that Mueller has been dealing with the White House for months, today we learn that the other location now under scrutiny is the Justice Department.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating whether President Donald Trump sought to obstruct a federal inquiry into connections between his presidential campaign and Russian operatives has now directed the Justice Department to turn over a broad array of documents, ABC News has learned.

In particular, Mueller's investigators are keen to obtain emails related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the earlier decision of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the entire matter, according to a source who has not seen the specific request but was told about it.

Issued within the past month, the directive marks the special counsel's first records request to the Justice Department, and it means Mueller is now demanding documents from the department overseeing his investigation.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein played key roles in Comey's removal. And Sessions has since faced withering criticism from Trump over his recusal and Rosenstein's subsequent appointment of Mueller.

Mueller's investigators now seek not only communications between Justice Department officials themselves, but also any communications with White House counterparts, the source said. Before this request, investigators asked former senior Justice Department officials for information from their time at the department, ABC News was told.

The latest move suggests the Special Counsel is still actively digging into, among other matters, whether Trump or any other administration official improperly tried to influence an ongoing investigation.

There have always been three avenues for Mueller to proceed down in this investigation: Trump's long history of criminal money laundering, the attempts to collude with the Russians on intelligence theft and election interference, and the obstruction of justice efforts meant to try to cover up the first two sets of criminal acts.  Mueller demanding documents from the DoJ means a very serious effort to investigate the obstruction of justice angle, and it means that Attorney General Jeff Sessions must now be considered directly in the crosshairs of Mueller and his team.

It's going to be a long, cold winter for the White House indeed.

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