Mueller slows down obstruction investigation—because reporting any result could stop everything

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karo4greatness / Flickr Mueller is looking into Trump x27...
karo4greatness / Flickr

Bloomberg is reporting that Robert Mueller may be putting a portion of his investigation on ice.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice is said to be close to completion, but he may set it aside while he finishes other key parts of his probe, such as possible collusion and the hacking of Democrats, according to current and former U.S. officials.

In theory, Mueller could send over a report on this portion of the investigation, and allow it to move forward within the DOJ while he continues his investigation into collusion, money laundering, influence peddling, and all the other ‘features’ of the Trump White House that have surfaced over the course of his work.

But there’s a reason why Mueller is holding back on producing a report for Rod Rosenstein on this issue.

Any clear outcome of the obstruction inquiry could be used against Mueller: Filing charges against Trump or his family could prompt the president to take action to fire him. Publicly clearing Trump of obstruction charges — as the president’s lawyers have requested — could be used by his allies to build pressure for the broader investigation to be shut down.

The easy, and tempting, theory is that Mueller has piled up enough on Trump’s obstruction to get an indictment from the Grand Jury—though DOJ guidelines would mediate against going for such an indictment. However, as Bloomberg noted, Trump’s allies might easily take an absolution on any aspect of the investigation as an excuse to to end it all.

But the most likely circumstance is that Mueller will wait and turn over all his evidence en masse, giving it the best chance possible to run the gauntlet that comes after the report leaves his hands. Because it’s entirely possible that Trump could be protected, no matter the results.

It’s highly unlikely that Mueller, who tends to be a sharp follower of regulations, would “pull a Comey” and make a public statement about the results of his investigation. The probability is that Mueller will hand over his report to Rod Rosenstein. Who will then give it to Jeff Sessions. And nothing will happen unless the two of them believe that there is a reason to move forward. Jefferson Sessions could easily stand up on the morning following Mueller’s final report, indicate that the DOJ saw no issue with Trump’s actions, and not even forward the contents to Congress.

That would seem to be less likely if what hits Rosenstein’s desk is a fat folder full of potential indictments rather than a conclusion on a single issue.

And there’s another reason for Mueller to put the investigation into obstruction on hold for the moment. There are a lot of other areas still to investigate. Not just collusion with the Russians in the election. Not just the Trump Tower meeting and Wikileaks and communications through Carter Page or Paul Manafort or Michael Flynn or George Papadopoulos. Not just money laundering for Russians through shady real estate deals.

Recent reports provide a glimpse into how expansive and aggressive Mueller’s investigation is. The New York Times and Washington Post, for example, suggest Mueller’s team recently began probing efforts by the United Arab Emirates to influence the Trump team, including a meeting the Gulf kingdom apparently helped organize in the Seychelles where an informal Trump adviser also met with a Russian banker.

Which means that one reason to hold off giving a final result on obstruction is that it’s very likely Trump isn’t done obstructing. Mueller needs to keep some room at the back of his file for the next effort to get in his way.

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