Under Justice Department guidelines, “A ‘subject’ of an investigation is a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation.” Donald Trump, the president of the United States, is formally the subject of a criminal investigation into unlawful foreign influence in the 2016 presidential election that he won.
Let that sink in.
Consistent with its prior practice, special counsel Robert Mueller’s legal team isn’t talking about any of this. That leaves Trump’s team as the “leakers” behind the story about Trump’s status. And they’re trying to spin it as inconsequential because Mueller hasn’t yet designated Trump as a “target.”
Here’s the thing: Some targets don’t know they’re targets until they’re indicted. As the DOJ guidelines state, “A ‘target’ is a person as to whom the prosecutor or the grand jury has substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime and who, in the judgment of the prosecutor, is a putative defendant.” [Emphasis supplied]
Moreover, whether a sitting president can ever be indicted is the subject of scholarly debate. Until Mueller determines with reasonable certainty that Trump can be indicted, Trump can’t become a “target” — even for provable crimes.
In other words, Trump — as a “subject” — may already occupy the worst possible status he could possess in the Trump-Russia probe, namely, a criminal who is immune from prosecution until he leaves office.
Let that sink in, too.
Pruitt: Trump’s Ace-In-The-Hole
Since early March, Trump’s lawyers have known about their client’s unfortunate status. The timing now provides a context within which to evaluate Trump’s words and deeds over the past month. In particular, keep an eye on his vigorous defense of embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Trump has made no secret of his desire to restrict or terminate Mueller’s investigation. One approach he might attempt is to replace Mueller’s immediate supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein assumed control of the Trump-Russia investigation after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. If Sessions resigns, Trump can appoint an interim Attorney General replacement, provided that the Senate has previously confirmed that individual.
Enter Scott Pruitt. As interim Attorney General, Pruitt would become Mueller’s supervisor.
There are important qualifications. For example, if Trump fires Sessions (rather than forcing his resignation), Trump’s ability to appoint an interim successor AG becomes murkier. Likewise, Pruitt’s “political relationship” with Trump should require Pruitt to recuse himself from any investigation involving Trump. But given Pruitt’s behavior to date, it’s reasonable to assume that he would ignore ethical and legal restraints in gutting Mueller’s investigation.
Trump doesn’t care about Pruitt’s newsworthy ethical lapses or extravagant expenditures of taxpayer monies. Trump views the world through the prism of Trump-Russia. Whatever he does to survive the investigation is collateral damage of no concern to him. Scott Pruitt has demonstrated unwavering fealty to Trump, coupled with a blindness toward legal and ethical norms that apply to everyone else. For him, clipping Mueller’s wings in the service of Trump would be a pleasure.
The Week Wasn’t As Quiet As It Seemed
Two other noteworthy names in this week’s Trump-Russia Timeline Update: Roger Stone keeps moving himself from barrel to barrel; and every day, Erik Prince seems to develop new exposure to charges that he made false statements to Congressional investigators. Click on the Timeline name filter for each of them and see what pops up now.
Here’s a complete list of the new entries in this week’s Timeline Update:
REVISED: JUNE 2014: Massive Facebook Data Leak Underway; Cambridge Analytica in Contact With Russians
NEW: SUMMER 2016: Trump Adviser Goes to FBI With Claimed Access to Clinton Emails
NEW: AUG. 4, 2016: Stone Says “Devastating” WikiLeaks Coming
NEW: AUG. 4, 2016: Stone: “I dined with Julian Assange last night”
NEW: AUG. 5, 2016: Stone Tweets About Clinton’s Emails
REVISED: OCT. 2, 2016: Stone Appears to Predict More Damaging WikiLeaks
NEW: OCT. 3, 2016: Stone Tweets About Clinton and WikiLeaks
NEW: OCT. 5, 2016: Stone Tweets About Assange
NEW: AROUND JAN. 4, 2017: Erik Prince Reportedly Meets with George Nader
NEW: AUG. 2, 2017: Rosenstein Confirms Mueller’s Authority to Investigate Manafort’s Possible Collusion with Russia
NEW: EARLY MARCH 2018: Mueller Confirms Trump Is “Subject” of Probe
NEW: MARCH 9, 2018: Mueller Obtains Another Search Warrant Against Manafort
NEW: DURING THE WEEK OF APRIL 2, 2018: Mueller Questions Trump Business Associate About Foreign Deals
NEW: APRIL 2, 2018: Mueller Outlines Potential Scope of Investigation
NEW: APRIL 3, 2018: Van der Zwaan Sentenced
NEW: APRIL 4, 2018: Facebook Finds More Russian Accounts; More Cambridge Analytica Problems
NEW: APRIL 4, 2018: Mueller Quizzing Oligarchs
NEW: APRIL 6, 2018: Trump Reportedly Contemplates Replacing Sessions With Besieged EPA Administrator Pruitt; Trump Tweets
NEW: APRIL 6, 2018: Treasury Dept. Sanctions Oligarchs and Putin Cronies
NEW: APRIL 7, 2018: Trump Tweets About DOJ and FBI, Again
NEW: APRIL 8, 2018: Trump Tweets About Clinton and DOJ, Again
NEW: APRIL 8, 2018: Trump Finally Criticizes Putin