I’m calling it now: Robert Mueller will not interview President Trump in regard to the Russia investigation. Mueller may well play this decision close to the vest while he pursues other leads, but I believe he has already made this decision. This post is the analysis of how I reached that conclusion.
To start, it’s important to avoid being fooled by the bias of the interested parties. The Democrats, Republicans, and the media all have strong motives for their opinions, and for trying to spin public opinion their way. The Democrats and media really, really want the investigation to continue as long as possible; the Democrats want it to be available as an election issue, and the media is just plain addicted to having a Trump scandal to cover, regardless of whether or not such a scandal really exists. Even among Republicans, there are many who don’t like Trump very much, and would like to see him humbled by fears of possible prosecution. So it should not be a shock that the overwhelming message we have seen all this time, is how Trump is in trouble.
But Bob Mueller has his own troubles. Mueller had a sterling reputation when he was appointed to head the investigation, one of objective and professional standards. Then this happened:
It’s at this point, when we have to decide which Bob Mueller is running the investigation.
“Bad” Mueller would be the proud and arrogant bureaucrat, who has botched investigations in the past
such as publicly accusing an innocent man in the Anthrax investigation,
failing to close a Hell’s Angels shooting investigation,
and according to aides, someone incapable of admitting mistakes, and someone determined to blame others for his mistakes.
But there is also the fact that many high-level Republicans support Mueller, including Paul Ryan and Deputy AG Rosenstein.
If that is correct, “good” Mueller is going to have to work through some stress, starting with the fact that the Republicans in Congress have lost patience with him, and even some media have begun to criticize an apparent bias by Mueller.
I can’t pretend that I know the exact details of Mueller’s thinking, but I do have a few touchpoints which I think can be used as a foundation.
First, keep in mind that Mueller had retired. He was only interested in two jobs – coming back to head the FBI again (Mueller actually interviewed with Trump the day before he was named to head the investigation), or to be a Special Counsel, a rare opportunity to put his name in history books.
Second, keep in mind that if Mueller really wants to be unbiased, he may well feel he cannot appear to be giving anything to Trump. Let me explain this point in the context of the Strzok/Page/McCabe/etc. scandal:
Back when I was a baseball umpire and football official, there were occasions when, being human, officials would blow a call. When that happened, officials generally did one of two things. Some would admit the mistake to a coach or player, while others would stay silent on that point. If an official admitted a mistake, many times a coach or player would insist on a “make up” call. But no honest official can do that. While a coach or player (or fan) may see it as making things balanced, to deliberately make a wrong call to favor a team, even to “make up” for a bad call, is unconscionable. No honest official can ever deliberately call something to favor a team. Ever.
This matters, because I believe Bob Mueller is sick about the corruption of his team. Even if he believed Trump was guilty of something, which I do not think is the case, he knows the ‘evidence’ produced by the people who were essentially Hillary fans is completely useless – anything Mueller presents to Congress has to be clear of any connection to those criminals. I also think Mueller knows that there will be criminal indictments against Strzok, Page and others who tried to frame Trump, and McCabe had better keep a lawyer on speed-dial. For Mueller, the problem is rebuilding his credibility. Ironically, putting people on his team believed to be pro-Trump would just confirm – in the minds of both Republicans and Democrats – that Mueller could not be trusted. To Republicans, putting pro-Trump people on his team would be seen as an admission that he recognized the first team was out to get Trump, and they would never trust him. Democrats, of course, would be outraged by any member of Mueller’s team showing support for the President. Consequently, Mueller has had to rebuild his case using new evidence, while striving to use investigators who won’t be labeled as pro- or anti-Trump.
“Good” Mueller is not going to be a buddy of Trump. In this context, “good” simply means Mueller wants to do a thorough but fair job. That’s my read.
The key question is whether Mueller, thinks Trump is innocent or guilty. Or, as I think, undecided but leaning just annoying.
Consider the people Mueller has interviewed. And even more important, what did Mueller do after each of them? And how did the indictments handed down turn out so far?
If you look at the evidence, the people interviewed, all in all there’s nothing at all to indicate Trump is in any danger.
Also, consider this: A Washington Post article quoted in The Hill predicts Mueller will release his report to Congress in July.
The Hill post suggests that the report will be an interim report, but the timing is important.
Because that same WaPo article confirms that the President is not the target of a criminal investigation.
So, what we have is an investigation which is not focused on Trump, and as things stand now a report is coming up in three months. Consider it takes a couple months to write up and prepare the report, and what we have here is an investigation beginning to wrap up.
So why is Mueller still at work? Moving on to new touchpoints:
Third, Mueller is finishing a career project, one to which his name will always be attached. Mueller does not want to be known as a guy who couldn’t nail a target without cheating. This is important;
Fourth, Mueller knows that if the Democrats are in power when his report is presented, they will certainly use it to go after Trump. The Republicans, if they are in power, would use the opportunity to close the investigation. Releasing a report this summer, just before the midterm elections, allows both parties to say whatever they want, but the report will be neither suppressed nor taken out of context;
An interview at this point with Trump would not advance the investigation for Mueller. He does not have any evidence that Trump is guilty of anything, so an interview would only be useful to clarify points in doubt, or it could be used to trap Trump. But a ‘gotcha’ indictment would only confirm every accusation of bias and corruption against Mueller, so even if he hates Trump’s guts, Mueller won’t interview Trump, because it can’t help him in his main goal, to produce a fruitful outcome.
Finally, Mueller understands his management of the investigation has been far below optimal. The IG is already working on indictments against corrupt federal agents, and Mueller really wants to make sure he doesn’t find his own name on one of the indictments. So Mueller will connect his evidence to as many real bad guys as he can find, he will write up a report which stays as close to neutral as he can, and he will wrap up the investigation without going after the President.
Wait and see.