1 year into Rus­sia probe, Wash­ing­ton is rat­tled, un­cer­tain

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - OBITUARIES - By Mary Clare Jalonick and Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON » Un­like the pres­i­dent, Robert Mueller hasn’t ut­tered one word in pub­lic about his Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the year since he was ap­pointed spe­cial coun­sel. And that is rat­tling just about ev­ery­one in­volved.

What’s he up to? When will he bring the probe to an end?

He doesn’t have to say, and he’s not.

A year into the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the stern-look­ing pros­e­cu­tor is ev­ery­where and nowhere at the same time. In that time, the breadth and stealth of in­ves­ti­ga­tions sur­round­ing Trump have un­set­tled the White House and its chief oc­cu­pant, and have spread to Capi­tol Hill, K Street, foreign gov­ern­ments and, as late as last week, cor­po­rate board­rooms.

With law­mak­ers ey­ing midterm elec­tions and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pub­licly mulling whether he will sit for an in­ter­view with Mueller, Re­pub­li­can calls are grow­ing for the spe­cial coun­sel to end his in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and oth­ers have said it pub­licly. GOP law­mak­ers in­sist they’ve seen no ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion be­tween Rus­sians and Trump’s 2016 elec­tion campaign.

The longer the in­ves­ti­ga­tion runs, those calls are likely to am­plify.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has stead­fastly sup­ported the spe­cial coun­sel, seemed to change his tone a bit Thurs­day.

“I think he should be free to do his job, but I would like to see it get wrapped up, of course,” Ryan said of Mueller. “I mean we want to see this thing come to its con­clu­sion, but again I’ve al­ways said he should be free to fin­ish his job.”

Mueller is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion, whether Trump’s campaign was in­volved and pos­si­ble ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. And by the stan­dards of pre­vi­ous spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tions, his ac­tu­ally has so far gone fairly quickly. Since he was ap­pointed on May 17, 2017, Mueller’s of­fice has charged 19 peo­ple and three Rus­sian com­pa­nies. He has charged four Trump campaign ad­vis­ers, in­clud­ing for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn and ex-Trump campaign chair­man Paul Manafort.

The probe has also en­snared count­less Wash­ing­ton in­sid­ers who have been called to tes­tify or found them­selves un­der scru­tiny, in­clud­ing lob­by­ists and foreign rep­re­sen­ta­tives who may have il­le­gally sought to in­flu­ence the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Large cor­po­ra­tions like AT&T and No­var­tis have been con­tacted by Mueller and caught up in an off­shoot in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Trump’s long­time per­sonal at­tor­ney Michael Cohen. The com­pa­nies ac­knowl­edged last week that they paid Cohen for “in­sight” in the early days of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

While Mueller him­self still en­joys gen­er­ally broad bi­par­ti­san sup­port in Congress, par­tic­u­larly in the Se­nate, the se­crecy of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion has cre­ated some anx­i­ety about what is next.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple are cu­ri­ous about what hap­pened,” says Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. “And ev­ery­thing so far that has sup­pos­edly come out about it has been spec­u­la­tion and con­jec­ture and ru­mor — and the truth is no­body re­ally knows what Mr. Mueller and his team are think­ing.”

The pres­i­dent’s lawyers have rushed to fill that vac­uum, re­cently sug­gest­ing they’ve been told Mueller won’t in­dict Trump and couldn’t force the pres­i­dent to com­ply with an in­ter­view. Per­sonal at­tor­ney Rudy Gi­u­liani sug­gested that a re­cent con­ver­sa­tion with Mueller’s team led him to be­lieve the spe­cial coun­sel, cit­ing a Jus­tice Depart­ment opin­ion, had ruled out the pos­si­bil­ity of try­ing to in­dict a sit­ting pres­i­dent.

Trump has seemed con­fi­dent of that on Twit­ter, where he fre­quently throws barbs at the in­ves­ti­ga­tion — a strat­egy that is in­creas­ingly res­onat­ing with many Repub­li­cans. On Thurs­day, he marked the an­niver­sary by calling the probe a “dis­gust­ing, il­le­gal and un­war­ranted Witch Hunt.”

But while he calls for an end to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Trump’s own in­de­ci­sion over an in­ter­view re­mains the most vis­i­ble im­ped­i­ment to a speedy con­clu­sion of at least one key part.

Mueller asked to in­ter­view the pres­i­dent months ago, but the Trump le­gal team has strug­gled to for­mally make a de­ci­sion. The pres­i­dent has pub­licly said he wants to talk to Mueller, only to de­mur, cit­ing his lawyers. Last week, Gi­u­liani told The As­so­ci­ated Press the de­ci­sion would be de­layed at least an­other month until af­ter a June 12 sum­mit with North Korea.

Gi­u­liani said Mueller has in­di­cated to the le­gal team that he’s “pretty much fin­ished,” with the ex­cep­tion of the pres­i­dent’s in­ter­view.

“As far as we know, we’re ba­si­cally the last wit­ness,” Gi­u­liani said.

Beyond that, the endgame re­mains un­clear. A fi­nal re­port from Mueller could go to Congress — a move that would be­come more sig­nif­i­cant if Democrats win con­trol in this year’s elec­tions.

It’s un­clear how much in­sight the Trump le­gal team has into Mueller’s tim­ing. As in most ma­jor in­ves­ti­ga­tions, his of­fice does not leak, and his spokes­men de­cline to com­ment on nearly ev­ery news story. Mueller is barely even pho­tographed — forc­ing news out­lets to run the same pho­tos and videos over and over again, of Mueller on Capi­tol Hill or head­ing to work.

In­stead, the few pub­lic glimpses into the spe­cial coun­sel’s work come from wit­nesses who are in­ter­viewed, at­tor­neys and court fil­ings made in the pub­licly filed crim­i­nal cases.

It’s also un­clear how im­por­tant the is­sue is to vot­ers back home.

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