Trump team girds for Mueller’s next move

Fi­nal re­port, more in­dict­ments amid shake-up feared

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Eric Tucker, Jonathan Lemire and Chad Day The Wash­ing­ton Post con­trib­uted.

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 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 lay 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 Pro­test­ers in front of the White House voice sup­port for Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. 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 Krem­lin­con­nected 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.


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