Here’s the thing about reports that come from unnamed inside sources. In order to believe it, you have to take the reporter’s word on it that the source exists to begin with, and you have to assume that the source is being truthful to the reporter. That can be the tricky part, as insiders only tend to share information with reporters to drive their own agenda, so the information typically is slathered in bias at best. But when a fairly major publication claims to have inside knowledge of something explosive, you have to at least chew on it.
That brings us to this new report from British publication The Spectator that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finished his report, and he’s going to use it to push for indictments against four members of Donald Trump’s family. That’s explosive enough, of course, before you get to the additional claim that Mueller also wants to indict Trump himself. Then there’s the kicker: new Attorney General William Barr is cool with indicting Trump’s family, but he’s pushing back on indicting Trump himself. Can any of this be real?
In a word, maybe. As a first step, I like to try to match up insider claims to what we already know, and see if it makes any logical sense. The Spectator says that Robert Mueller wants indictments against Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump. Let’s see here. Don Jr and Kushner are easy; they each illicitly met with the Russians, and they both appear to have committed perjury, before getting to any financial crimes. Ivanka and Eric both have their fingerprints all over the Trump Organization, which is one big financial fraud outfit. So if Mueller is indeed targeting the Trump family for financial crimes, this all makes sense.
Then there’s the part about Mueller wanting to indict Trump himself. One television pundit after another has spent the past year insisting there’s a Department of Justice “policy” or “rule” against indicting a sitting president, but as Palmer Report has repeatedly pointed out, there is no such thing. There is only a stray memo from the 1970s that has never been tested and carries no legal weight. So yes, we could buy Mueller seeking to indict Trump. Even if Mueller doesn’t think the indictment would hold up, merely recommending it could be crucial in influencing the general public.
This leaves us with the question of why William Barr would oppose indicting Donald Trump, but would be fine with indicting Trump’s family. If Barr really is corruptly trying to protect Trump, one would think he would try to protect Trump’s kids as well. So if Barr is okay with Mueller indicting Trump’s kids, then Barr must not be all that interested in protecting Trump. In such case, we would have to assume that Barr is merely opposed to indicting Trump simply because that’s his interpretation of the law.
All of the above sounds plausible. And we certainly have no reason to believe The Spectator would be making up an inside source, or quoting someone whom it knows isn’t legitimately on the inside. This leads us to the big question, though. Why would anyone involved in this process be motivated to leak it? What would be the point? We could envision a scenario in which Mueller is struggling to convince Barr to indict Trump – and someone involved in the process, who is on Mueller’s side, is trying to “help” by leaking this.
But that in turn would leave questions about why the usually secretive Team Mueller is suddenly resorting to leaks like this. In addition, there’s the question of why they would only leak this to a British publication, without bothering to also leak it to household name news outlets in the U.S., if the goal is to get the American public to believe it. So let’s watch and see if similar leaks appear in additional major news outlets in the coming days. The only thing we logically know for sure is that Mueller doesn’t plan to go small with his endgame; it’s simply not how he operates.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report