In a uniquely Washingtonian example of irony, NBC News reported Thursday just minutes before the close that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team are preparing to move forward with the Russia probe without interviewing the president - an announcement that comes just hours after Trump applauded his legal team's "engagement" with the special counsel.
As recently as Monday, Trump's legal team (weakened by the departure of John Dowd and the inability of Joe diGeneva to join because of conflicts) had been hammering out the final details surrounding an interview with the Mueller team.
But that reportedly changed after the FBI raided the home, office and hotel room of Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. The raid enraged the president, who said they were "a disgrace" and "an attack on our country."
Trump's legal team had been lobbying for the interview to last only a few hours. They were also pushing Mueller to agree to write a report within three to four months of the interview - ensuring the investigation would swiftly come to an end.
While Trump's legal team is still in frequent contact with the Mueller team - and one anonymous source cautioned that we should "never say never" (the unofficial motto of the Trump White House - the raid on Cohen "significantly complicated" the ongoing negotiations.
One of NBC's sources said Mueller's report on whether Trump obstructed justice is going to focus on Trump's state of mind when he fired James Comey, his misleading statement about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower organized by his son, and his push for Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from supervising the Russia probe.
Sources also said to expect a flurry of activity over the next six weeks leading up to the one year anniversary of Mueller's appointment as special counsel.
Three sources familiar with the investigation said the findings Mueller has collected on Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice include: His intent for firing former FBI Director James Comey; his role in the crafting of a misleading public statement on the nature of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son and Russians; Trump’s dangling of pardons before grand jury witnesses who might testify against him; and pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
Mueller would then likely send a confidential report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation. Rosenstein could decide whether to make the report public and send its findings to Congress. From there, Congress would then decide whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, said two of the sources.
Rosenstein met with the president at the White House on Thursday. A White House official told reporters the meeting was about "routine department business." A Justice Department spokeswoman said it was part of a scheduled meeting with officials from other agencies as well as DOJ.
The special counsel's office did not respond for a request for comment on this report.
Since the FBI raid seizing Cohen’s documents and electronics, Trump has soured on the idea of sitting for an interview with Mueller, people familiar with his thinking said. Trump’s lawyers were wary of him agreeing to a sit-down, but in the days before the raid they had started initial preparations for Trump take part in a possible interview in part because the president could overrule their advice, people familiar with the discussions said.
If Trump does ultimately deny Mueller an interview, his legal team is prepared to argue that a sitting president can't be subpoenaed or indicted. Also, NBC noted that Mueller hasn't interviewed Mike Pence - and it's unclear whether he intends to. It's also unclear who else remains to be interviewed (at this point, we assume Mueller has interviewed everybody even remotely connected to the Trump campaign or administration, and their cat).