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Evangelicals giving Trump 'mulligan' on his past

The Lead political panel discusses.

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: 749532

Reported Deaths: 13746
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1030911775
Lake554681006
Allen41636691
St. Joseph36947564
Hamilton36527416
Elkhart29363459
Tippecanoe22862225
Vanderburgh22542400
Porter19331325
Johnson18405388
Hendricks17588317
Clark13200193
Madison13120344
Vigo12604253
LaPorte12394221
Monroe12163175
Delaware10947198
Howard10263225
Kosciusko9614119
Hancock8549144
Bartholomew8162157
Warrick7854156
Floyd7772180
Grant7229179
Wayne7155201
Boone6917103
Morgan6736141
Dubois6211118
Marshall6206116
Cass5991108
Henry5894108
Dearborn588978
Noble580186
Jackson508674
Shelby500897
Lawrence4732121
Gibson444093
Harrison440773
Clinton440055
DeKalb438785
Montgomery434690
Whitley406042
Huntington402281
Steuben399259
Miami392768
Jasper386954
Knox375790
Putnam372160
Wabash360583
Ripley346570
Adams344955
Jefferson335685
White330253
Daviess3031100
Wells295181
Decatur289992
Greene286385
Fayette284864
Posey273735
LaGrange272872
Scott269955
Clay265848
Washington244934
Randolph244683
Jennings235149
Spencer234231
Starke227558
Fountain218647
Sullivan213943
Owen211058
Fulton201542
Jay200932
Carroll193420
Orange188055
Perry186937
Rush175726
Vermillion173644
Franklin170235
Tipton165846
Parke149016
Pike138034
Blackford136132
Pulaski120247
Newton112736
Brown103943
Crawford102316
Benton101014
Martin91515
Warren83615
Switzerland8098
Union72810
Ohio57811
Unassigned0420

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1107225

Reported Deaths: 20091
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1285061459
Cuyahoga1156322204
Hamilton812991245
Montgomery524951040
Summit48356999
Lucas43309817
Butler38903603
Stark33297929
Lorain25641502
Warren24558303
Mahoning22332601
Lake21139385
Clermont20098252
Delaware18819135
Licking16649222
Fairfield16564204
Trumbull16527479
Medina15597270
Greene15256246
Clark14223306
Wood13281197
Portage13229214
Allen11903239
Richland11598211
Miami10837223
Wayne9116222
Columbiana9023230
Muskingum8889135
Pickaway8652122
Tuscarawas8639247
Marion8635138
Erie8052164
Ashtabula7139179
Hancock6996131
Ross6934161
Geauga6832150
Scioto6530104
Belmont6149174
Union583849
Lawrence5723102
Jefferson5669158
Huron5539122
Sandusky5437125
Darke5415129
Seneca5344126
Washington5308109
Athens523360
Auglaize501687
Mercer487285
Shelby476295
Knox4568112
Madison443765
Ashland435197
Putnam4334103
Fulton431871
Defiance431798
Crawford4033110
Brown401961
Logan387377
Preble3847103
Clinton378566
Ottawa372781
Highland359465
Williams347878
Champaign343858
Guernsey324253
Jackson317554
Perry297150
Morrow291340
Fayette285350
Hardin274865
Henry273267
Holmes2699101
Coshocton268459
Van Wert247264
Adams242956
Pike242735
Gallia240550
Wyandot234556
Hocking220162
Carroll196948
Paulding176342
Meigs148240
Monroe136144
Noble135839
Harrison113738
Morgan109624
Vinton85417
Unassigned03
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