Evangelicals giving Trump 'mulligan' on his past

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Posted: Jan 24, 2018 2:40 PM
Updated: Jan 24, 2018 2:40 PM

Finally, inexorably, special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has clawed all the way up to Donald Trump himself.

Now a foreboding moment looms for his presidency and for the nation.

A stunning barrage of revelations on Tuesday suggested that at least one strand of Mueller's Russia probe is racing toward its end game, emphasizing the gravity of the situation facing the White House and the potential vulnerability of the President.

Mueller's request to question Trump, and news that his team has already interviewed fired FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, indicate that the special counsel has a clear picture of where he is headed in what could turn into an obstruction of justice case, legal experts said.

"It's possible that Mueller is closing in on his determination about what obstruction looks like, whether it is a criminal offense in his mind, whether it is an impeachable offense, or whether it amounts to nothing," Michael Zeldin, a former senior aide to Mueller at the Justice Department, told CNN's Brooke Baldwin.

Tuesday's bombshells came amid new signs that Trump is still pushing up against constitutional norms in his conduct toward judicial authorities usually seen as independent of the President.

The current FBI Director Christopher Wray threatened to quit, a source familiar with the situation told CNN, after coming under pressure from Sessions, to clean out senior leadership figures dating from the Comey era who the President believes are biased against him. The development was first reported by Axios.

The Washington Post reported that Trump had asked then acting FBI director Andrew McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 election in an introductory Oval Office meeting and criticized his wife's Democratic affiliation, in a move that infringed customary treatment of a civil servant.

And there are signs Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign staffer who pleaded not guilty in October to eight charges of money laundering and failing to register foreign lobbying and other business, may be ready to cooperate with Mueller, CNN's Katelyn Polantz reported Tuesday night.

And on a day of intense drama, efforts by Republicans to discredit the Russia probe gathered pace, as the White House said Trump was ready to declassify a memo written by GOP committee staff in the House claiming misconduct by FBI officials investigating the President.

Four Trump associates have so far been charged in the Mueller investigation, but there is still neither proof of wrongdoing by the President nor indications of the special counsel's eventual conclusions.

Yet the prospect of the President of the United States testifying to the investigation would lift the intrigue to an unprecedented level, and would be a spectacle not seen since Bill Clinton's grand jury appearance 20 years ago that led to his eventual impeachment over an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

The fact that Mueller's team has already spoken to Comey and Sessions and now wants to talk to the President suggests the investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice by asking the former FBI director to go easy on former national security adviser Michael Flynn and then fired him when he demurred, is at an advanced stage. CNN also reported last week that Trump's former top political adviser Steve Bannon had struck a deal to be interviewed by Mueller's prosecutors.

"It seems to indicate that the investigation is in its 11th hour," said Jens David Ohlin, a professor and vice dean at Cornell Law School.

Ohlin said the seniority of those questioned points to Mueller reaching a defining moment at least in the obstruction of justice portion of an investigation that is also considering whether anyone in the Trump campaign broke the law by cooperating with a Russian election meddling effort.

"We are at the top of the heap politically with Steve Bannon. We are at the top of the heap in terms of law enforcement in terms of the attorney general and the former head of the FBI," said Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's former Republican attorney general.

"It strikes me they are getting near the end of gathering all their information, and then ... they are going to have to process that and make some decisions about how to proceed," Cuccinelli told CNN.

The interview request suggests that Mueller is proceeding in classic fashion, working his way from the broadest point of the investigation to the key figure, with Trump at the tip of the triangle.

Trump has consistently denied any collusion with Russia, has said he did not obstruct justice in firing Comey and has branded the entire episode a "hoax" and a "witch hunt" against him.

The fact that Mueller has come this far does suggest that he believes at the very least there is "something there" in the possible obstruction case, Ohlin said: "I don't think it is just out of an abundance of diligence. He's doing it because he sees something problematic with Comey's dismissal. If there is truly nothing there, it is very easy to investigate it because there is just nothing to grasp onto."

The latest reports shed new light on Trump's potential exposure, noting that the special counsel's office has indicated it wants to talk to Trump about Flynn's exit and Comey's dismissal.

The Washington Post also said Mueller was interested in Trump's efforts to remove Sessions or to pressure him into quitting, quoting a source familiar with the investigation as saying the special counsel wanted to assess whether there was a "pattern" of behavior by the President.

Still, as Mueller has shown -- for instance in surprise indictments and plea deals last year -- no one outside his investigation can accurately assess his intentions or its scope.

"We also don't know if it will lead to anything at all. Sometimes you get to the end of an investigation and you have the final interview to check the box," former US Attorney Preet Bharara said on the "Situation Room" on Tuesday. "It may be that this will lead to something very significant and earth-shattering and earth-shaking for the country, it also could be something they are just putting to bed."

Trump's lawyers could offer written answers from the President to the special counsel's questions -- a step many legal analysts suspect will not go far enough for Mueller. Another option might be a formal interview with Trump's lawyers present, which would allow them to restrain their star witness, who is often voluble and imprecise and economical with the truth in a way that could lead him into jeopardy from Mueller's crack team of prosecutors.

Refusing Mueller's request could force the special counsel to subpoena the President to testify to a grand jury, a step that would put him in an even more perilous situation.

Tuesday's developments also shed new light on Trump's potential vulnerability. Mueller is now armed with the testimony of Comey, Sessions and that of a cooperating witness Flynn, all of whom could have shed light on crucial conversations with the President.

He likely also has a large quantity of evidence from other sources, including interviews, emails and other testimony and doubtlessly already knows the answer to many of the questions he will pose to Trump, putting the President on thin ice if he is not completely truthful.

Mueller also has the benefit of contemporaneous memos written by Comey after several meetings with the President in which he detailed what he later said was an effort by the President to develop a inappropriate relationship of "patronage" with him.

Trump said last year that he would be "100 percent" willing to testify to Mueller under oath. CNN has reported that some of the President's friends and associates have warned him not to put himself in legal jeopardy by voluntarily submitting to an interviews. Earlier this month, Trump appeared to walk back on the prospect of meeting Mueller.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday that the White House is "fully cooperative" with Mueller but believes the American people are ready to move on. But a new CNN poll appeared to counter that assertion, finding that 8 in 10 people said Trump should testify to Mueller if asked, including 59% of Republicans.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 918230

Reported Deaths: 15011
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1252491952
Lake623371084
Allen52301746
Hamilton43009443
St. Joseph41155584
Elkhart32831485
Vanderburgh29698436
Tippecanoe26442247
Johnson23106414
Hendricks21708338
Porter21255340
Clark16988222
Madison16899378
Vigo15562272
Monroe14186190
LaPorte13961235
Delaware13613215
Howard13531258
Kosciusko11150134
Hancock10534159
Warrick10431174
Bartholomew10233166
Floyd10099202
Wayne9557216
Grant8858194
Morgan8654158
Boone8231109
Dubois7521123
Henry7391126
Dearborn734186
Noble7208100
Marshall7168127
Cass7060117
Lawrence6803150
Jackson638980
Shelby6386106
Gibson5999105
Harrison587984
Huntington586490
Montgomery5663101
DeKalb555691
Knox532999
Miami523183
Clinton522464
Putnam519067
Whitley509851
Steuben480267
Wabash470192
Jasper465760
Jefferson456091
Ripley439074
Adams435565
Daviess4008106
Scott389563
White383457
Decatur376895
Clay376455
Greene375589
Wells375183
Fayette363074
Posey351841
Jennings341756
Washington324046
LaGrange312074
Spencer310734
Fountain306553
Randolph302087
Sullivan294947
Owen275961
Orange269659
Starke268961
Fulton264451
Jay248134
Perry244950
Carroll239926
Franklin229337
Vermillion225850
Rush225530
Parke212020
Tipton205354
Pike200938
Blackford163834
Pulaski155250
Crawford140818
Benton138316
Newton138141
Brown130646
Martin124416
Switzerland122310
Warren112616
Union92211
Ohio75811
Unassigned0461

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1319265

Reported Deaths: 21265
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1480641537
Cuyahoga1311202313
Hamilton948871307
Montgomery647451122
Summit548531041
Lucas49502853
Butler45993649
Stark39954963
Lorain30438525
Warren29170326
Mahoning25988629
Clermont24726278
Lake24088411
Delaware21722140
Licking19822239
Fairfield19780218
Greene19671266
Medina19208285
Trumbull19195506
Clark17188321
Portage15585224
Richland15540228
Wood15187208
Allen13654254
Miami13283244
Muskingum11821148
Wayne11448234
Columbiana11100239
Tuscarawas10388264
Marion10273144
Pickaway10162128
Scioto9766124
Erie9479170
Ross8979172
Lawrence8225116
Hancock8105140
Ashtabula8083184
Geauga7976155
Belmont7791183
Jefferson7093168
Huron7087125
Union703549
Washington6823116
Athens666163
Sandusky6608132
Darke6394135
Knox6308120
Seneca6113135
Auglaize569888
Ashland5631110
Shelby555799
Mercer545188
Brown533067
Defiance5278100
Madison527368
Crawford5148113
Highland514876
Fulton508781
Clinton505379
Logan494582
Preble4788110
Putnam4733106
Guernsey439057
Williams437281
Champaign426463
Ottawa425783
Perry414051
Jackson402259
Pike367140
Morrow359149
Fayette353951
Coshocton345064
Hardin341868
Adams338864
Gallia329254
Holmes3148107
Henry312668
Van Wert299269
Hocking280467
Wyandot271858
Carroll250451
Paulding231742
Meigs197842
Monroe178649
Noble160340
Morgan153528
Harrison145740
Vinton130217
Unassigned05
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