We still don’t know what Special Counsel Robert Mueller will do when it comes to his endgame against Donald Trump, but it does appear we’re getting closer than ever to seeing it play out. This has led a whole lot of pundits to predict that Mueller will handle things by the book, because he’s always been a “by the book” guy. But that’s not what his prosecutorial history says – at all.
To hear some pundits tell it, Robert Mueller is going to simply submit a report about Donald Trump’s crimes, as if he were turning in a homework assignment, and call it a day. After all, that’s what a “by the book” paper-pusher would do, right? He’d simply leave it up to those in the political arena, or leave it up to chance really, when it comes to whether his primary prosecutorial target Donald Trump is ever brought to justice. But that’s not how Mueller has ever operated.
Robert Mueller made his investigative mark by taking down mafia boss John Gotti, and by taking down mafia-like corporation Enron. When he was targeting Enron, he was dealing with a company where everyone at the top was a hardened criminal, they were all conspiring with each other, and there was no straightforward path to taking them down.
So he used tactics like finding the weak points of top Enron underlings to get them to flip on their bosses. He also made unusually aggressive moves, such as putting the Chief Financial Officer’s wife in prison, in order to get him to cave. Mueller didn’t think it was enough to simply expose the CFO and charge him, and leave it to chance. Instead he did what he had to, in order to get the CFO to cooperate. Does this sound like a guy who’s simply going to hand in a report about Donald Trump and go home?
Mueller’s takedown of mafia boss John Gotti may be even more instructive. Mueller cut a deal with Gotti’s top hitman, Sammy the Bull Gravano. In the end, Gravano was able to confess to nineteen murders and only had to go to prison for five years, because Gotti was the real target, and it was the only way to put an end to Gotti’s crime spree. A less assured prosecutor wouldn’t have been willing to risk looking bad by giving a career killer a relative slap on the wrist – and that lesser prosecutor would have failed to take Gotti down accordingly.
We’ve already seen echoes of this in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Donald Trump. Mueller handed a free pass to Michael Flynn, a guy who committed treason or something like it, because Mueller knew it was the most efficient way to get the evidence he needed against Trump. Even the judge in the Flynn case wasn’t thrilled about it, but these are the kinds of moves that work when you’re targeting a well-insulated kingpin. Mueller will also find a creative way to use Trump’s family against him if he hasn’t already, because, well, that’s what Mueller does.
The bottom line is that, while Robert Mueller does stick to the law, he has a consistent history of being as aggressive and creative in his application of the law as possible. He sees it as his job to bring Donald Trump to justice, and not merely to build a theoretical criminal case against Trump that might never get used. We don’t know how Mueller will end up doing that, and more importantly, neither does Trump. But we know this: Mueller’s endgame will end up being anything but “by the book.”
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report