Robert Mueller’s next big move: flying handcuffs

It’s been ten weeks since Special Counsel Robert Mueller cut a plea deal with Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, plenty of time to work through everything that Flynn turned over. It’s been a few weeks since Mueller informed Trump that wanted to interview him in a few weeks, meaning time is up. Mueller’s next big move is coming. The question of course is what that move is going to be. There are some strong clues.

Let’s start by taking Mueller at his word: he’s made clear to Trump’s people that his next big move is an interview with Trump. That means Trump has to decide whether to take the legally risky move of testifying, or the politically fatal move of pleading the Fifth. Either way, once Trump grants the interview or announces that it won’t happen, it’ll mean Mueller is finished with the obstruction investigation. That’s the way these things work; the kingpin interview (or lack thereof) is always the final step before the kingpin is let off the hook if there’s no case, or when it comes to the obviously guilty Trump, referred for criminal charges. Here’s where things get interesting.

Some observers are expecting Mueller to simply refer Trump to the House Judiciary Committee for impeachment hearings. But that would be a dead end, at least for the rest of 2018, because the Republican majority in the House is highly unlikely to move forward with impeachment unless the referral itself causes Trump’s approval rating to drop far enough (the twenties) that the GOP decides it has no political choice but to throw Trump overboard before the midterms. Assuming the GOP is just going to sit on Mueller’s referral, it would mean all that work was for nothing, at least until the Democrats presumably take the majority after the midterms.

This leaves Robert Mueller with a very different option. He can simply get a grand jury to indict Donald Trump (or unseal the existing indictments that we’ve long suspected he’s been collecting against Trump), and move to put Trump on trial in a court of law. Trump would object, and the Supreme Court would then have to rule on the constitutionality of such a trial. As we wait for Mueller’s endgame with Trump to kick in, here’s something to keep in mind: once Trump’s interview happens or doesn’t happen, the obstruction probe will be finished. That means Mueller will arrest everyone else who committed obstruction. The handcuffs will be flying.

Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report