Trump preps for Mueller’s next move
Final report, more indictments amid shake-up feared
WASHINGTON — The White House is bracing for the probe of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to fire up again. Trump’s advisers are privately expressing worries that the special counsel, who’s been out of the news for the past month, has been stealthily compiling information and could soon issue new indictments or a damning final report.
Trump abruptly altered the chain of command above Robert Mueller on Wednesday, putting his work under the supervision of a Republican loyalist who has been openly skeptical of the special counsel’s authority and has mused about ways to curtail his
But Trump and his aides are concerned about Mueller’s next move with the work that is complete, according to a White House official and a Republican with close ties to the administration.
They insisted on anonymity to comment on conversations they were not authorized to describe.
Mueller has laid low for the past month as voters were mulling their choices for this week’s elections.
But a flurry of activity during his quiet period, including weeks of grand jury testimony about Trump confidant Roger Stone and negotiations over an interview with the president, hinted at public developments ahead as investigators move closer to addressing key questions underpinning the special counsel inquiry: Did Trump illegally obstruct the investigation? And did his campaign have advance knowledge of illegally hacked Democratic emails?
Trump has told confidants he remains deeply annoyed by the 18-month-old Mueller probe, believing it is not just a “witch hunt” but an expensive and lengthy negative distraction. The latest indication of the fury came Wednesday when he forced out his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whose recusal opened the door to Mueller’s appointment.
To this point, Trump has heeded advice not to directly interfere, though a new chapter in the relationship with the probe may have begun with the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as new acting attorney general.
Even if Whitaker, Sessions’ former chief of staff, does not curtail the investigation, Trump could direct him to take a more aggressive stance in declassifying documents that could undermine or muddle the probe, the White House aide and GOP official said.
The investigation until now has been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller last year and granted him fairly broad authority.
Since stepping into his new role on Wednesday, Whitaker has faced questions — principally from Democrats — about whether he should recuse from the Russia investigation, given that he has written opinion pieces in the past about the investigation, and is a friend and political ally of a witness.
On Thursday, two people close to Whitaker said he has no intention of taking himself off the Russia case and that they do not believe he would approve any subpoena of Trump as part of the investigation.
In 2014, Whitaker chaired the campaign of Sam Clovis, a GOP candidate for Iowa state treasurer. Clovis went on to work on the Trump campaign and has become a witness in Mueller’s investigation.
Ethics officials at the Justice Department are likely to review Whitaker’s past work to see if he has any financial or personal conflicts. In many instances, that office does not require a Justice Department official to recuse, but suggests a course of action.
Whitaker, a former United States attorney from Iowa, was brought into the Justice Department last year to serve as Sessions’ chief of staff. In the months before, Whitaker was a familiar presence on CNN, where he questioned Mueller’s scope and reach.
In one appearance, he defended a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, saying, “You would always take that meeting.”
He also tweeted a prosecutor’s opinion piece that called the Mueller team a “lynch mob,” and wrote his own op-ed saying Mueller would be outside his authority if he investigated Trump’s family finances.
Meanwhile, in several cities — including New York, Washington and Chicago — protesters on Thursday converged to call for the protection of Mueller’s investigation.
Protesters in front of the White House voice support for Robert Mueller’s investigation.