Reuters: Trump White House May Move to Restrict Scope and Targets of Special Counsel's Russia Probe

Posted: May 22, 2017 10:25 AM

If President Trump and company have nothing to hide -- as the exasperated president repeatedly insists -- this move is a head-scratcher. As we mentioned on Friday, there's a strong case to be made that the appointment of a special counsel is a probably a net-plus for the White House. Liberal attorney Alan Dershowitz built that exact case on Tucker Carlson's show, explaining how the new scenario will likely end up working in Trump's favor.  Watch:

He explained that it would not be criminal, even if it happened, for the Trump campaign to have collaborated with the Russians in an effort to get their candidate elected. "That's political wrongdoing, but it's just not a crime," Dershowitz said. "Nobody can point me to a statute that would be violated. And a prosecutor is only allowed to look for evidence of a federal crime." He said that he predicts the end result will be Mueller announcing no evidence of a crime, which would obviously be beneficial to Trump. Dershowitz said the worst-case scenario for the White House would be that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn gets indicted, but even if that were to happen, Trump could pardon him. "It's going to be done in secret, behind closed doors, and all we get in the end is no indictment or a lower-level former official gets indicted," Dershowitz said. "And I think in the end that helps the Trump administration, not hurts them."

It stands to reason that the 'behind closed doors' piece of this analysis is among the most attractive components of the arrangement, from Trump's perspective.  The White House could more easily decline to answer questions related to the probe, citing the independent investigation.  Mueller's process could also take the teeth out of Congress' parallel probes, depriving the storyline of political oxygen for as long as it remains active. Plus, if Trump and his upper echelon are as innocent of wrongdoing as they've consistently claimed, they'll be vindicated by Mueller, leaving Democrats with nowhere to turn -- after all, they were the ones who insisted on the appointment special counsel all along.  And yet, Reuters is reporting that the White House is working to undercut Mueller's credibility. That would be a tough task from the get-go, given the man's extraordinary bipartisan reputation; beyond that, the strategy is puzzling:

The Trump administration is exploring whether it can use an obscure ethics rule to undermine the special counsel investigation into ties between President Donald Trump's campaign team and Russia, two people familiar with White House thinking said on Friday...Within hours of Mueller's appointment on Wednesday, the White House began reviewing the Code of Federal Regulations, which restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating their prior law firm’s clients for one year after their hiring, the sources said. An executive order signed by Trump in January extended that period to two years. Mueller's former law firm, WilmerHale, represents Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who met with a Russian bank executive in December, and the president's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is a subject of a federal investigation. Legal experts said the ethics rule can be waived by the Justice Department, which appointed Mueller. He did not represent Kushner or Manafort directly at his former law firm. If the department did not grant a waiver, Mueller would be barred from investigating Kushner or Manafort, and this could greatly diminish the scope of the probe, experts said.

Between Trump practically high-fiving the Russians in the Oval Office over sacking Comey (and confirming to them that his decision was related to reducing "pressure" on his administration vis-a-vis Russia) and these reported maneuvers to undermine Mueller's work, Trump appears eager to appear as guilty as possible.  If he's tying to protect confidantes whom he privately believes may be in legal jeopardy, then he's effectively obstructing justice.  If he's truly confident that the Left's rumors and allegations are baseless, these are bizarre acts of self-sabotage.  Speaking of the president's reported White House conversation with Russian officials (which the White House did not deny), former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy -- who has often defended Trump and criticized Comey -- declares himself "slack-jawed" over how the president comported himself.  As the tone of my post last week probably suggests, this particular episode really bothered me, regardless of whether or not it ultimately points to any legal or ethical culpability.  McCarthy puts his finger on why Trump's conduct is so off-putting:

The real question raised by the president’s latest intemperate remarks and the company in which they were made is whether the president knows the good guys from the bad guys. Jim Comey is a patriot. That I have disagreed with him on some big things, does not change that. Disagreeing is what Americans do – that’s self-government by people who care passionately about how we are governed. But let’s assume for argument’s sake that I am wrong. Let’s say that, as Sean Spicer says, Comey is a grandstander who has intentionally politicized an investigation in order to undermine the president. He’s still not the Russians. “America First,” remember? Comey is an American who believes in America; Lavrov and Kislyak are Putin operatives who oppose America at every turn. Comey believes in freedom and the rule of law; the Putin regime believes in Soviet tyranny and the rule of Putin. Comey is one of us. Lavrov and Kislyak are two of them.

There is no excuse for a president of the United States to run down an American for the consumption of our Russian adversaries – particularly an American who is fighting against Russia’s operations against our country. It is indefensible...The problem with this incident is not that it makes more likely the possibility that Trump colluded with Russia. The problem is that it suggests that Trump isn’t distinguishing friend from foe, Americans from America’s enemies. I don’t care about the “Russia collusion” narrative. I’m talking about a president who must know there is a more destructive narrative about his fitness, for which he cannot seem to stop providing ammunition...I would not be laboring under the delusion that the leaking of what Trump said is more outrageous than the substance of what Trump said. What the president said, especially in light of whom he said it to, is reprehensible.

Click through for this full column, which also makes mincemeat of Sean Spicer's official statement basically confirming what Trump told Lavrov and Kislyak, and blaming Comey -- as opposed to Russia -- for the United States government's struggle "to engage and negotiate" with that hostile power. I'll leave you with the Weekly Standard's thorough endorsement of Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia matter: