White House Braces For First Arrest In Mueller Probe

After more than 14 months, it’s possible the first arrests in the FBI’s long-running probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia – launched in July 2016 by then-FBI Director James Comey before being handed off to Special Counsel Robert Mueller in May – could happen as soon as this morning.

Multiple reports over the weekend – beginning Friday evening with CNN – said at least one person’s been charged and could be arrested as early as Monday morning. It wasn’t clear who the first target will be, what the charges are, and what happens next in the Mueller investigation, and some have speculated that a series of tweets from President Trump insisting that the FBI ramp up its investigation into Hillary Clinton could be a sign that the White House has reached the end of its patience with Mueller, and that the special counsel might soon be fired, an act that CNN claims would trigger “a constitutional crisis”.

On Sunday, Trump lashed out at the latest CNN leak, slamming the "collusion" narrative which he has dubbed as a witch hunt, and demanding that "something" be done to investigate Clinton's own alleged opposition research which was aided by Russia.

On Monday morning, Trump continued the attack, tweeting "Report out that Obama Campaign paid $972,000 to Fusion GPS. The firm also got $12,400,000 (really?) from DNC. Nobody knows who OK'd!"

The White House has been further upset with Mueller over the a steady stream of leaks since the probe's early days, seemingly emerging from inside Mueller’s shop, that have damaged Trump's credibility by appearing to cast an aura of suspicion over Trump without bringing charges or presenting any real evidence. As has been widely disseminated, the special counsel has taken up several strands of inquiry, including into the business affairs of Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, claims that members of the President's campaign team, like former national security adviser Michael Flynn, failed to adequately report payments from Russian entities and whether the President's dismissal of FBI Director James Comey amounted to obstruction of justice.

Among the specific leads he’s reportedly explored are links between Trump aides and foreign governments, as well as potential money laundering, tax evasion and other financial crimes, according to sources familiar with the probe. He also is exploring whether Trump or his aides have tried to obstruct the investigation, Bloomberg noted.

Trump and his team deny any wrongdoing, and so far there is no conclusive evidence from Mueller's closely held investigation or several congressional probes of nefarious links with the Russians.

Ty Cobb, the President's outside counsel sought to make clear that Trump's Twitter eruption Sunday was not an attempt to antagonize Mueller.

"Contrary to what many have suggested, the President's comments today are unrelated to the activities of the special counsel, with whom he continues to cooperate," Cobb told CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

As CNN points out, if the first charges involve activities that didn’t involve the president, such as an indictment for former campaign executive Paul Manafort on charges related to his lobbying business, Trump could use the moment to declare victory, once again branding the investigation as nothing short of the “witch hunt” Trump has repeatedly claimed it would be.

In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina said it would be “important whether or not this indictment involves 15-year-old business transactions or 15-day-old conversations with Russia.”

“It’s really important what the charge is. It’s really important who the person being charged is,” Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor who chairs the House Oversight Committee, said.

Given Trump’s willingness to break precedent in the pardoning of political allies, like he did when he pardoned sheriff Joe Arpaio before the sheriff’s sentencing, there’s also been speculation that Trump could quickly move to pardon the Mueller probe’s targets.

According to various media reports, an indictment or indictments were handed down by Mueller’s grand jury on Friday, but a federal judge immediately ordered it sealed. The indictment or indictments could be unsealed as soon as today. US intelligence agencies concluded in January that Russia interfered in the election to try to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton by hacking and releasing embarrassing emails and disseminating propaganda via social media to discredit her, however, several Congressional probes have sought to reexamine these claims.

Trump’s critics have pointed out that the White House and its allies in Congress have revived their push to investigate Hillary Clinton and the Democrats for their involvement with the Obama-era Uranium One deal, as well as for financing the infamous “Trump dossier”, which purportedly played an important role in Comey’s decision to launch what became the Mueller probe, despite knowing that some of the information contained therein had either been debunked, or couldn’t be verified.

While some have suggested that this could be an attempt at deflection, there’s also evidence to suggest that the Clintons had compromising relationships with the Russians. And while no special prosecutor has been appointed in that probe, lawmakers continue to push for one, because their independent probes don’t have the power to bring charges, Reuters. Still, the unsealing of the indictments could mark one of the most important days of Trump's presidency, Politico pointed out, while also threatening to dominate a news cycle and distract from Republican efforts on tax reform, as well as the president's first trip to Asia.

To be sure, markets have mostly ignored news about the various investigations (with the exception of major developments like Trump's firing of James Comey), and according to one analyst, investors probably won't start caring now.

Commenting on today's upcoming revelations, KBW analyst Brian Gardner writes that Mueller’s indicting former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort or former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn over activities separate from Trump campaign/administration would be "mostly political noise,"

However, there's one important caveat to that view, Gardner wrote: The closer any indictments get to Trump, or potential knowledge Trump had about representatives of his campaign coordinating political activities with representatives of foreign governments, the more likely it is that indictments will hurt markets, and adds that "any unsealing of indictments may dominate week’s entire news cycle, drown out coverage of tax legislation, monetary policy."