Mueller assurance on Trump means less than it looks

Supporters of President Donald Trump are already claiming he is all but in the clear following revelations that he is...

Posted: Apr 5, 2018 11:26 AM
Updated: Apr 5, 2018 11:26 AM

Supporters of President Donald Trump are already claiming he is all but in the clear following revelations that he is not a target of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

The disclosure, which comes at a moment when Mueller's probe appears to be gathering pace and breadth, may help the White House breathe easier, but it actually falls well short of the vindication the President seeks, at least for now.

That's partly because few observers expected Mueller to make Trump a target of his criminal investigation owing to the legal uncertainty over whether a sitting president can be indicted.

CNN's Gloria Borger and Evan Perez reported Wednesday that even though the President is not the target of his inquiries, he is more than a witness in the investigation -- he's considered a "subject" of the probe.

According to the Justice Department's US Attorney manual, the "subject" of an investigation is someone whose conduct is within the scope of a grand jury investigation.

A "target" is considered to be someone on whom the prospector or the grand jury has substantial evidence to suggest a criminal offense has been committed.

In practice, Mueller could suspect Trump committed a crime or indulged in unethical behavior but needs to conduct further investigations. It is also possible that the special counsel never gets to the point that he makes such a determination.

'Meaningless'

South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, said on CNN's "New Day" on Wednesday that the terms used to describe Trump's current status in the case did not add up to much.

"As a former federal prosecutor, they are meaningless to me because one witness can take you from being a subject to a target," he said.

Of course, the fact that the President is the "subject" of a criminal probe into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in an election can be considered good news, is a commentary on the times and the grave legal and political story which has become the new normal in Washington.

The insight into where the President stands in the Mueller investigation comes as the special counsel appears to be moving ahead on multiple fronts, some of which appear to directly approach the Oval Office and the President's family. Mueller also currently seems to be piling pressure on Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager facing multiple financial charges, to agree to a plea deal. Should he do so, Manafort could potentially testify against other senior figures in Trump's orbit, such as his son Donald Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner or even the President himself.

In another potentially significant development last week, Mueller's team stated in a court filing that Manafort's former business partner and campaign deputy Rick Gates, who is already cooperating, was in contact with someone who worked for a Russian intelligence agency including in September and October 2016, weeks before the presidential election.

New political opening for the White House

While the latest reports may not clarify the legal situation facing Trump much, they do offer an opening for fresh political spin on the investigation and for the White House to renew its insistence that there was no collusion between Trump and Russia.

"We have said many times before, there was no collusion between the President and Russia," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

Michael Ahrens, director of rapid response for the Republican National Committee, wrote in an email blast that the latest revelations show that "after all this time, Mueller and his entire team of lawyers have still not gathered enough evidence for Trump to become a target. That's huge news."

But in one worrying sign for Trump, The Washington Post first reported on Tuesday that Mueller was preparing a report on potential obstruction by the President, which would relate to the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Citing sources familiar with the matter, CNN's Borger and Perez established that Mueller had raised the prospect of an interim report and said the plan would be to eventually produce a narrow report focusing on obstruction. But the sources said there was no sign such a report was coming soon.

Still, confirmation that Mueller plans to report on the obstruction piece of his investigation is hardly a development that could set the President's mind at rest.

Silver lining

Some Trump supporters still see a silver lining and interpreted the latest developments as a sign that Mueller was getting towards the end of several branches of the investigation, that has been a constant cloud over the Trump presidency.

"I am feeling pretty good about it if I am in the Trump White House right now," said James Schultz, a former lawyer for the President, on CNN Tuesday.

The Post reported that Trump expressed relief when he learned how he had been categorized by Mueller's investigators.

Despite such upbeat assessments however, the latest glimpse into the Mueller probe is likely to intensify debate over Trump's repeatedly stated desire to testify, given his propensity for not always speaking the truth. Any testimony by the President could also point to new evidence that could eventually convince the special counsel to make Trump the target of the investigation.

"The easiest way to become a target is to lie to the prosecutor under oath," former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 150664

Reported Deaths: 4008
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion24697784
Lake13220352
St. Joseph8877159
Elkhart8469132
Allen7880222
Hamilton5962113
Vanderburgh559360
Tippecanoe354714
Monroe320738
Hendricks3183130
Johnson2995128
Porter297848
Clark285461
Delaware282074
Vigo252637
Madison229593
Cass222021
LaPorte215557
Warrick188464
Kosciusko176823
Floyd174867
Howard158866
Bartholomew139758
Dubois135125
Marshall132526
Henry122628
Grant120939
Wayne119327
Boone118848
Hancock114145
Noble113533
Jackson108713
Morgan92240
Dearborn91628
Daviess84033
Gibson83411
Clinton81616
Shelby79429
Lawrence78534
LaGrange76715
Harrison74024
Putnam71016
Knox70310
DeKalb69411
Posey6796
Steuben6008
Fayette58517
Miami5845
Montgomery57222
White56815
Jasper5624
Greene51837
Scott50813
Decatur49839
Adams4725
Clay4346
Whitley4316
Sullivan42812
Ripley4228
Wells4155
Starke3937
Wabash3919
Orange38725
Huntington3785
Spencer3706
Franklin36525
Jennings36013
Washington3592
Randolph3398
Fulton3362
Jefferson3305
Pike31913
Carroll31413
Perry29514
Jay2876
Fountain2863
Tipton26823
Parke2203
Newton21811
Vermillion2181
Rush2044
Owen2021
Martin1950
Blackford1923
Crawford1491
Pulaski1471
Brown1303
Ohio1227
Benton1070
Union1040
Switzerland890
Warren751
Unassigned0233

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 185639

Reported Deaths: 5083
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin30978635
Cuyahoga19436675
Hamilton16234338
Montgomery10083186
Lucas8175370
Butler8028123
Summit6555261
Warren406360
Stark3696178
Mahoning3635283
Marion335149
Pickaway296946
Delaware281127
Lorain266689
Fairfield257856
Licking248865
Wood244681
Clark242454
Clermont234937
Trumbull2221134
Greene219640
Columbiana210187
Allen203873
Miami195656
Lake188357
Medina180242
Portage156167
Mercer147128
Ross133833
Wayne131568
Richland128624
Tuscarawas123622
Athens11742
Erie113853
Darke110151
Madison103514
Hancock103023
Auglaize95116
Putnam91527
Lawrence90725
Shelby86814
Muskingum8434
Geauga83650
Scioto8059
Belmont78427
Union7343
Ashtabula72148
Huron69910
Sandusky69422
Preble59517
Seneca58514
Holmes57010
Ottawa56830
Fulton5056
Jefferson4564
Henry45317
Defiance44413
Jackson4417
Clinton43613
Fayette4328
Crawford4308
Highland4024
Logan4023
Champaign3873
Ashland3735
Brown3683
Knox36215
Perry35411
Washington33323
Morrow3312
Hardin32113
Williams3194
Coshocton29812
Pike2880
Guernsey2878
Wyandot28413
Gallia27913
Van Wert2333
Meigs21012
Adams2036
Carroll1917
Paulding1901
Hocking1899
Monroe15218
Noble1210
Vinton903
Harrison793
Morgan740
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Overcast
54° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 54°
Angola
Overcast
50° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 50°
Huntington
Overcast
54° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 54°
Decatur
Overcast
54° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 54°
Van Wert
Overcast
54° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 54°
Warmer Thursday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events