Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal surprised its readers by reporting that President Donald Trump's legal team was working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to reach an early close to his Russia probe, using the possibility of an interview with the president (and the implicit threat of Trump quashing the probe) as leverage to force Mueller into some kind of deal that, by the sound of it, would probably see Trump accept a slap on the wrist.
However, no sooner had the WSJ story dropped than the New York Times appeared to negate it with a report of its own, penned by "Trump whisperer" Maggie Haberman. In it, Haberman writes that Trump is in talks to hire the veteran Washington lawyer who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial. In its story, the NYT specifically reported that - if accurate - the hiring of attorney Emmet Flood would suggest that the prbe is unlikely to end anytime soon.
President Trump is in discussions with a veteran Washington lawyer who represented Bill Clinton during the impeachment process about joining the White House to help deal with the special counsel inquiry, according to four people familiar with the matter.
The lawyer, Emmet T. Flood, met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office this past week to discuss the possibility, according to the people. No final decision has been made, according to two of the people.
Should Mr. Flood come on board, the two people said, his main duties would be a day-to-day role helping the president navigate his dealings with the Justice Department.
Two people close to the president said that the overture to Mr. Flood did not indicate any new concerns about the inquiry. Still, it appears, at the least, to be an acknowledgment that the investigation is unlikely to end anytime soon.
The NYT report infuriated Trump, who issued a scathing tweet accusing the paper of fabricating lies about him.
The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job and.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 11, 2018
...have shown conclusively that there was no Collusion with Russia..just excuse for losing. The only Collusion was that done by the DNC, the Democrats and Crooked Hillary. The writer of the story, Maggie Haberman, a Hillary flunky, knows nothing about me and is not given access.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 11, 2018
And as if the will-he-won't-he routine wasn't infuriating enough already, Bloomberg joined the fray today, publishing a report saying Mueller could be close to wrapping up parts of his investigation, while putting other pieces of the inquiry on hold for now.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice is said to be close to completion, but he may set it aside while he finishes other key parts of his probe, such as possible collusion and the hacking of Democrats, according to current and former U.S. officials.
The reason? Mueller is worried that, if he brings charges relating to Trump's purported obstruction of justice, witnesses in other parts of the probe might get cold feet as they circle the wagons. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers are ratcheting up pressure on Mueller to wrap up the probe.
The obstruction portion of the probe could likely be completed after several key outstanding interviews, including with the president and his son, Donald Trump Jr. The president’s lawyers have been negotiating with Mueller’s team over such an encounter since late last year. But even if Trump testifies in the coming weeks, Mueller may make a strategic calculation to keep his findings on obstruction secret, according to the current and former U.S. officials, who discussed the strategy on condition of anonymity.
Any clear outcome of the obstruction inquiry could be used against Mueller: Filing charges against Trump or his family could prompt the president to take action to fire him. Publicly clearing Trump of obstruction charges -- as the president’s lawyers have requested -- could be used by his allies to build pressure for the broader investigation to be shut down.
With 17 prosecutors at its disposal, Mueller’s sprawling probe is expected to be the 2016 campaign. Mueller is also expected to issue indictments against those (probably Russian) individuals suspected of hacking the Democratic National Committee before the election while publicly leaking stolen material in an effort to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton.
And as we pointed out last week, the Trump family's foreign business entanglements, as well as efforts by the United Arab Emirates to influence Trump following meeting between a Trump emissary in the Seychelles. Mueller is also reportedly turning up the heat on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen by asking questions about his outreach to a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin about a stalled "Trump Tower Moscow" project.
Perhaps the biggest variable in determining when the probe will end is the cooperation of Trump and his family. As we reported, Trump's lawyers are reportedly pushing Mueller to accept written replies to his questions.
The timing for whether -- and when -- to interview Trump or his family members is one of the most sensitive decisions Mueller faces at this stage of his investigation. The special counsel’s office declined to comment for this story.
Trump's lawyers have also said they expect the probe to wrap up shortly. Mueller has already secured several guilty pleas - including a plea from former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn - and has requested more than 1.4 million pages of documents.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the obstruction investigation, Mueller is believed to be focusing on three main potential violations: Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey; the drafting of a misleading statement to the New York Times about a meeting Don Jr. organized with a Russian lawyer and her entourage at Trump Tower during the summer of 2016, and - in an incredibly meta twist - Mueller is also investigating reports that Trump considered firing him last June.
Several members of Trump's family have also been reluctant to speak with Mueller.
Kushner spoke to Mueller early on in the investigation for a limited interview, while Don Jr. and Ivanka Trump, haven't been interviewed. There is also no indication that Mueller interviewed former Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller.
Mueller’s team of FBI agents and prosecutors has already interviewed people who could provide firsthand knowledge of possible obstruction of justice, including Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers.
Of course, whether the investigation truly is close to wrapping up won't be known until Mueller tells us. Though a recent barrage of leaks about the expanding scope of the investigation would suggest that, even if it's not close to being over, it is entering a new, more-intense phase.