Mueller ‘close’ to issuing first findings in Russia investigation

Special counsel set to report to deputy AG Rod Rosenstein after midterm elections, officials say

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Photograph: Aaron Bernstein/Reuters

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Photograph: Aaron Bernstein/Reuters

 

Special counsel Robert Mueller is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia investigation soon after the November midterm elections as he faces intensifying pressure to produce more indictments or shut down his investigation, according to two US officials.

Specifically, Mr Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry: whether there were clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, and whether the US president took any actions that constitute obstruction of justice, according to one of the officials, who asked not to be identified.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Mr Mueller’s findings would be made public if he doesn’t secure unsealed indictments. The regulations governing Mr Mueller’s i nvestigation stipulate that he can present his findings only to his boss, who is currently deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

The regulations give a special counsel’s supervisor some discretion in deciding what is relayed to Congress and what is publicly released.

The question of timing is critical. Mr Mueller’s work won’t be concluded ahead of the November 6th midterm elections, when Democrats hope to take control of the House of Representatives and end Mr Trump’s one-party hold on Washington.

But this timeline also raises questions about the future of the investigation itself. Mr Trump has signalled he may replace attorney general Jeff Sessions after the election, a move that could bring in a new boss for Mr Mueller. Mr Rosenstein also might resign or be fired by Mr Trump after the election.

Mr Rosenstein has made it clear that he wants Mr Mueller to wrap up the investigation as expeditiously as possible, another US official said. The officials gave no indications about the details of Mr Mueller’s conclusions. Mr Mueller’s office declined to comment.

Pivotal time

With three weeks to go before the midterm elections, it’s unlikely Mr Mueller will take any overt action that could be turned into a campaign issue. US justice department guidelines say prosecutors should avoid any major steps close to an election that could be seen as influencing the outcome.

That suggests the days and weeks immediately after the November 6th election may be the most pivotal time since Mr Mueller took over the Russia investigation almost a year and a half ago. So far, Mr Mueller has secured more than two dozen indictments or guilty pleas.

Mr Trump’s frustration with the investigation, which he routinely derides as a “witch hunt”, has been growing, prompting concerns he may try to shut down or curtail Mr Mueller’s work at some point.

There’s no indication, though, that Mr Mueller is ready to close up shop, even if he does make some findings, according to former federal prosecutors. Several matters could keep the investigation going, such as another significant prosecution or new lines of inquiry. And because Mr Mueller’s inquiry has been proceeding quietly, out of the public eye, it’s possible there have been other major developments behind the scenes.

Mr Mueller only recently submitted written questions to Mr Trump’s lawyers regarding potential collusion with Russia, and his team hasn’t yet ruled out seeking an interview with the president, according to one of the US officials. If Mr Trump refused an interview request, Mr Mueller could face the complicated question of whether to seek a grand jury subpoena of the president. The justice department has a standing policy that a sitting president can’t be indicted. – Bloomberg