A mood of crucial anticipation is masking Washington, with probable arrests immediate after the federal grand jury in the Russia inquiry approved its first charges.
By taking one or more people into protection, a prospect first reported on Friday, Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller would make a new, delicate reality for the White House, reversing the gravity of the inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and stated complicity by President Donald Trump’s associates.
Trump and his team ban any misbehavior, and so far there is no decisive evidence from Mueller’s closely held inquiry or several congressional inquests of odious links with the Russians.
At minimal, news of charges will perplex the White House’s debate that the Russia drama is nothing but a drummed up Democratic plot born of anguish at Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss last November, and be a complication from the Republican tax reform achievement this week.
More significantly, the charges could be the first stage in a series of actions by the special counsel that drive at the heart of Trump’s inner political and family circle, and could even put his presidency in peril.
But the prompt political fallout of whatever unfolds in the arriving days depends on who is originally targeted by Mueller, their closeness to Trump, and how the President behaves to this threshold being crossed.
“The Dems are utilizing this terrible (and bad for our nation) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R’s … are now fighting back like never before,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “There is so much disgrace by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!”
The special counsel has taken up several strands of investigation, including into the business affairs of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, allegation that members of the President’s campaign team, like former national security adviser Michael Flynn, transgressed in their stated contacts with Russian officials and whether the President’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey amounted to interference of justice.
Sending a message to Mueller?
Trump’s Sunday emitting posed an essential question that may be answered this week: Will Trump be capable to direct his anger in a way that does not put him in deeper legal and political peril or anger the special counsel?
On many incidents throughout the Russia episode, Trump’s conduct has appeared to disclose him to deeper prospect, for example over the Comey firing that led to Mueller’s appointment. The President’s political susceptibility is becoming more acute as well — an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll Sunday put his consent rating at 38% — the lowest point of his presidency.
Ty Cobb, the President’s top counsel, sought to create clear that Trump’s Twitter eruption Sunday was not a try to annoy Mueller.
“Contrary to what many have recommended, the President’s comments today are irrelevant to the activities of the special counsel, with whom he go on to cooperate,” Cobb told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny.
But given the timing of the Twitter feedback on a weekend dominated by CNN’s reporting of approaching arrests, Cobb’s explanation was open to quarry.
The President’s anger appeared to represent a clear try to shape the political battlefield after a week in which the White House and allies sought to dull the narrative on the Russia inquiry.
There is still rampant belief in Washington that Trump could seek to dismiss Mueller, a move that could trigger an essential crisis and put Republican leaders in Congress in a dicey political position.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board and some timid columnists are calling on Mueller to resign, saying his history with the FBI creates it impossible for him to fairly search the bureau’s involvement in the Russia drama.
Should the first charges be attracted away from the President, such as regarding business trade unrelated to Trump, he could also use the moment to declare win and say it’s time to wrap up an inquiry that couldn’t find any complicity between Russia and the presidential campaign.
Impact on agenda
Signs Mueller is moving forward could also expand divisions within the Republican Party, after several politician accused Trump of disgracing the nation, at a time when unity is critical for the tax reform push.
Quarries about the inquiry are also likely to pursue Trump on the most essential foreign trip of his presidency so far when he goes to Asia later this week, with a nuclear showdown with North Korea reaching boiling point.
Preet Bharara, former US Attorney for the southern district of New York, said Sunday that Trump’s feedback to Monday’s normal drama will be necessary.
“I would look for a couple of things, one, whether or not Donald Trump has some feedback and talks in a way that could be used against him in the future, because Bob Mueller would do that,” Bharara said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“And the second thing I would look at is to see if the President of the United States is sending some type of message to the potential offender or other witnesses.”
Going after Clinton
The White House is torching a similar foe, Clinton, highlighting a sale of a uranium firm to Russian investors while she was secretary of state.
It also captured on a Washington Post report that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee hired a law firm that committed opposition research firm Fusion GPS that arranged a dossier including salacious allegations about Trump’s alleged links to Russia
Trump allegation this shows that Clinton — and not the President — should be investigated for conniving with Russia to influence the election.
Such an aspect, however, avoids the conclusion of US intelligence agencies that Russia developed a plot to interfere in the election in 2016, and over time developed a choice for Trump.