Let's discuss what NBC News reported yesterday, then decide whether that supposed timeline is still operative, in light of new developments. What NBC's sources are telling them is that Mueller and company are preparing to start issuing their findings as soon as next month, starting with the obstruction of justice angle, then moving on to the bulk of the probe: Russian meddling and potential "collusion." Is this saga finally nearing its conclusion?
Mueller’s team had been aiming to finalize a report on its findings on whether the president has tried to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation in the coming months, as early as May or as late as July, three sources said. That timeline hinged in part on reaching a decision on a presidential interview, these people said. One person familiar with the investigation described a decision on an interview as one of the last steps Mueller was seeking to take before closing his investigation into obstruction. Now, according to two sources, Mueller’s team may be able to close the obstruction probe more quickly as they will not need to prepare for the interview or follow up on what the president says…Three sources familiar with the investigation said the findings Mueller has collected on Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice include: His intent for firing former FBI Director James Comey; his role in the crafting of a misleading public statement on the nature of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son and Russians; Trump’s dangling of pardons before grand jury witnesses who might testify against him; and pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
If an interview with the president were going to happen, the Special Counsel team would need to take a fair amount of time to follow-up on whatever Trump might tell them, cross-referencing his claims with other evidence and testimony. Now that Trump is, shall we say, very disinclined to grant that face-to-face after all, Mueller can wrap things up based on what he's already gathered. Question: If earthquake-level charges aren't announced pertaining to obstruction of justice, it would be hard to imagine that Mueller has strong evidence of collusion, right? It's tough to cover up an underlying crime that doesn't exist -- unless, of course, the Russia investigation turned up evidence of ancillary criminality. Maybe that's why Team Trump is hedging its bets by laying the groundwork to discredit Trump's own Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, the man overseeing Mueller's work:
BREAKING: The White House is preparing talking points designed to undermine Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's credibility, according to sources familiar with the plan. https://t.co/kkh9sUplJz pic.twitter.com/9DsYGZq8JH— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) April 12, 2018
The word is that Rosenstein and Sessions may soon be goners, according to the Journal, which would raise the temperature around Mueller to a boiling point. This spring/summer political season is going to be a doozy. But wait: How can Mueller and his associates possibly be nearing the denouement of their probe when Trump's personal lawyer just had his doors kicked in by the FBI? Wasn't a large amount of potential evidence seized that now needs to be carefully reviewed? And might that potential evidence entail -- gulp -- audio tapes of discussions between Michael Cohen and his most famous client?
President Trump’s personal attorney Michael D. Cohen sometimes taped conversations with associates, according to three people familiar with his practice, and allies of the president are worried that the recordings were seized by federal investigators in a raid of Cohen’s office and residences this week. Cohen, who served for a decade as a lawyer at the Trump Organization and is a close confidant of Trump’s, was known to store the conversations using digital files and then replay them for colleagues, according to people who have interacted with him. “We heard he had some proclivity to make tapes,” said one Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. “Now we are wondering, who did he tape? Did he store those someplace where they were actually seized? . . . Did they find his recordings?”
If there are tapes, and if Trump is featured in them, all of a sudden Mueller's team may have a lot more information to consider before issuing any final reports. And that could take some time, given the (properly) laborious process of an independent committee reviewing the materials obtained from an attorney in order to ensure that attorney-client privilege isn't infringed upon. Allahpundit reminds us of those dynamics: "Even recordings of conversations between Cohen and a client (assuming they exist) aren’t necessarily privileged. They’re privileged if they involve legal advice and don’t...involve a crime or fraud in which Cohen was participating. Imagine the universe of information outside those parameters that might be in the FBI’s hands now." It would be truly insane and mind-glowingly stupid for Cohen to have hung onto a bunch of recordings of Trump while Mueller and multiple Congressional committees were circling. Could he have been that moronically reckless? Stay tuned! I'll leave you with the mood inside the Oval Office, per Trump's frenemy reporter at the New York Times:
This is about as personally cornered as Trump has been since “Access Hollywood” weekend— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) April 13, 2018