It’s after midnight eastern time, so welcome to the day that will go down in history as marking the first arrest or arrests in Donald Trump’s Russia scandal. As we head into the day, we’re burdened with not knowing who’s going to be arrested. That’s a good problem to have, if you’re us. It’s an entirely different problem to have if you’re a Trump-Russia player, and you’re waiting to find out if it’s you. But let’s talk about what we can truly expect out of Robert Mueller today.
Investigations of this kind always work from the bottom up. The kingpin behind the crime operation is the only true priority. There are rare instances in which prosecutors decide that it’s worth giving the kingpin immunity in exchange for helping to take everyone else down – but this is not one of those situations, nor would Trump cooperate in such a manner anyway. So make no mistake here, Mueller’s real target is Trump. That said, the most surefire way to take him down is to flip his own people against him. This is the part where Mueller’s strategy might deviate from the norm.
In an investigation where time is not of the essence, and the prosecutor’s job is 100% secure, you might see the prosecutor methodically start at the very bottom to get someone to flip, and incrementally work upward one level at at time. This is different. Donald Trump is illegally occupying the White House after having illegally conspired with a foreign enemy to rig the election in his favor, and he’s using his illegally held office to do more damage to the country by the day. That doesn’t mean Mueller is going to try to sprint through this, because that could significantly lessen the odds of it succeeding.
That said, Mueller has been around long enough to understand that if Trump is guilty enough to warrant criminal prosecution, then Trump is guilty enough to be ousted from office as swiftly as reasonably possible. That might mean skipping over various levels in the hierarchy. For instance, though Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn were among Trump’s top people and they’re each accused of extraordinarily serious crimes that could send them to prison for life, it wouldn’t be a shocker to see Mueller offer them each a very light sentence in exchange for enough testimony and evidence to take Trump down. Although we all want justice served, if Mueller is able to oust Trump, no one is going to care in the end that Manafort and Flynn got an overly lenient process deal in the process. So let’s talk about what’s going to happen on Monday.
Rather than trying to guess which specific names might be arrested on Monday, it may be more constructive to talk about whether Mueller goes big or goes small. Will he try to avoid upsetting Donald Trump tomorrow by arresting a small-time witness whom Trump doesn’t care much about? Or will he make multiple major arrests in an effort to gash Trump so badly that it’ll be too late for Trump to realistically get away with firing him? There’s some recent history in that regard.
When Robert Mueller decided that he needed to seize documents from Paul Manafort’s home, he could have shown up with warrant in broad daylight and simply knocked on the door. Instead he got a no-knock warrant and had the FBI break into Manafort’s home in the middle of the night, only waking up Manafort on the way out the door to let him know how screwed he was. Mueller has shown us that when he makes fundamental moves in this probe, he prefers to go big and make a definitive statement. Happy Monday.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report