In one of the Washington Post’s tamest Friday-night bombshells to date, the Jeff Bezos-owned paper of record alleges that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is trying to interview six current and former White House aides, a sign that “the probe that has dogged Trump’s presidency is starting to penetrate a closer circle of aides around the president.”
However, a closer look at exactly who Mueller is hoping to question appears to contradict WaPo’s interpretation: While his list reportedly includes a handful of senior figures like former chief of staff Reince Priebus and former press secretary Sean Spicer, names like Hope Hicks, Don McGahn, James Burnham and Josh Raffel aren’t as widely known to the public - and hardly qualify as "senior aides."
Still, the Post’s anonymous sources claimed that these individuals may have been privy to important decisions, like Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and the White House’s initial reluctance to address warnings about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s integrity, and the reasoning behind them.
Of course, Mueller, who has been keenly interested in the process that ultimately led to the ouster of his friend, and potential witness, James Comey, has continued to press the issue even after Comey himself said he believed Trump's conduct during a meeting where the president allegedly asked his then-FBI director to "let go" of the investigation into gaps in Flynn's security clearance disclosures didn't rise to the level of obstruction of justice.
As for how Comey's firing may be connected to Russian interference during the election - we're still not clear on that.
“Each of the six advisers was privy to important internal discussions that have drawn the interest of Mueller’s investigators, including his decision in May to fire FBI Director James B. Comey and the White House’s initial inaction following warnings that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had withheld information from the public about his private discussions in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, according to people familiar with the probe.
The advisers are also connected to internal documents that Mueller’s investigators have asked the White House to produce, according to people familiar with the special counsel’s inquiry.”
Following this round of interviews, it’s widely expected that Mueller could go after senior officials like Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.
“White House officials are expecting that Mueller will seek additional interviews, possibly with family members, including Kushner, who is a West Wing senior adviser, according to the people familiar with Mueller’s inquiry.”
The idea that Mueller wants to interview Kushner is almost ridiculous, considering he has already sat for marathon interviews with investigators from at least two Congressional committees. Former Campaign CEO Paul Manafort has also delivered extensive testimony to Congress.
In addition to Priebus, Spicer and Hicks, Mueller will probably want to question White House counsel Don McGahn.
Mueller has a different reason for speaking with each individual staffer. Hicks, who is now White House communications director, and Raffel were purportedly involved in discussion over how to respond to the New York Times, which was preparing its initial report about the now infamous “Russia meeting.”
However, if Mueller wants to learn more about Hicks's role in the decision-making process, there appears to be an easier way: He could just pick up a copy of the Post.
“The two communications staffers advocated being transparent about the purpose of the meeting, which Trump Jr. had accepted after he was offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton that he was told was part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.
Ultimately, according to people familiar with the discussions, the president dictated language for the statement that his son would release to the New York Times, which was preparing a report about the meeting. The response omitted important details about the meeting and presented it as “primarily” devoted to a discussion of the adoption of Russian children.”
Spicer was reportedly drawn in to the administration’s handling of the Flynn firing.
“After The Washington Post reported that Flynn had talked with Kislyak about sanctions, Spicer told reporters that Flynn had “reached out to” Kislyak on Christmas Day to extend holiday greetings — effectively rejecting claims that they had talked about U.S. sanctions against Moscow. A few days later, President Barack Obama had announced he was expelling 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” in response to the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. election.
After Obama’s announcement, Spicer said Kislyak had sent a message requesting that Flynn call him.
‘Flynn took that call,’ Spicer said. But he stressed that the call ‘centered on the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and [Trump] after the election.’”
Of course, those leftist conspiracy theorists who believe plotting Russians successfully influenced the outcome of an American election have received plenty of grist from the media this week.
On Thursday, the New York Times reported that Donald Trump Jr. told Congressional investigators that he took the now infamous Russia meeting to try and determine Hillary Clinton’s “fitness” for office. Earlier in the week, Facebook unleashed a veritable firestorm of hysteria after it “admitted” that it had sold at least $100,000 in advertising to a Russian troll farm - though the ads in question didn't explicitly support either candidate.
While the competing Congressional investigations have largely devolved into a battle of political posturing between competing committees, it seems that Mueller remains determined to cast the widest possible net, suggesting that the former FBI Director is frantically searching for a "smoking gun.