White House braces for Mueller’s fi­nal re­port

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - By Eric Tucker, Jonathan Lemire and Chad Day

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 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 power. 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 in­ves­tiga- tion? 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 fur­ther un­der­mine or mud­dle the probe, the White House aide and Repub­li­can 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.

“It’s very sig­nif­i­cant be­cause Whi­taker’s po­si­tion on in­dict­ments or fu­ture in­dict­ments may be dif­fer­ent than Rosen­stein’s, and Rosen­stein had given Mueller a broad man­date to pur­sue var­i­ous crimes,” said Wash­ing­ton crim­i­nal de­fense lawyer Jef­frey Ja­cobovitz.

The Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion has so far pro­duced 32 crim­i­nal charges and four guilty pleas from Trump as­so­ciates.

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