Robert Mueller may be done, but his probe will live on in ways big and small — keeping alive the Russia story that has at times consumed Donald Trump’s presidency.
The Democratic-led House still has oversight plans of its own, not to mention an impeachment fight that isn’t going away anytime soon. Cases spawned and inspired by the special counsel’s investigators continue to move through the courts, and Mueller himself confirmed on Wednesday during a long-awaited House Judiciary Committee hearing that a post-presidency indictment against Trump is hypothetically possible. Federal investigators are also still examining how the whole Russia thing got started.
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And then there’s this: One of Mueller’s former prosecutors is penning a memoir sure to generate buzz.
Here’s a POLITICO guide to what’s still out there in Mueller-land:
Pro-impeachment Democrats face an uphill climb to build support following the Mueller hearing. But Democrats still have a packed oversight plan that includes digging into Mueller’s counterintelligence findings about Trump and attempts to draw information from the special counsel’s witnesses.
Several deadlines are approaching.
Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director and longtime Trump spokeswoman, must submit follow-up questions to the House Judiciary Committee by Aug. 15 to address what the panel has described as “inconsistent” testimony about Donald Trump’s hush-money payments to an adult film actress.
Annie Donaldson, a former Trump White House counsel deputy, is also due back before the panel after Nov. 1 for public testimony.
Other players central to the Mueller report can’t rest easy either.
Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates have missed deadlines to turn over documents to the House Intelligence Committee and then sit for sworn testimony. And Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler has outstanding subpoenas ready for another dozen witnesses in the probe.
There are live-fire court cases, too. Nadler has the green light to file lawsuits any time now against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn — the former to gain access to Mueller’s unredacted final findings and the latter to collect testimony from the most cited witness in the Mueller report.
Shortly after Mueller’s testimony concluded Wednesday, Nadler announced that his panel plans to head to court in the next few days to demand access to the grand jury information contained in Mueller’s report. Based on previous court rulings, the strategy might be an uphill battle unless House leaders are willing to formally declare an impeachment inquiry.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit earlier this month signaled support for the House’s bid to gain access to financial records from an accounting firm Trump used.
And oral arguments are coming up Aug. 23 in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in another case involving House subpoenas to two banks — Deutsche Bank and Capital One — that extended loans to Trump. The president already lost in May in federal district court in his bid to stop the banks from turning over their materials.
The Justice Department probes
A Justice Department review of the underlying reasons for the Russia probe is expected to land early this fall.
The document will likely take aim at Christopher Steele, the former British spy behind an infamous dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia, as part of an examination into the early stages of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation.
For over a year, the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, has been examining the FBI’s efforts to surveil a one-time Trump campaign adviser. That action was based in part on information from Steele, a former British MI6 agent who had worked with the bureau as a confidential source since 2010.
Several people interviewed as part of the IG’s probe have told POLITICO that Horowitz’s team is focused on gauging Steele’s credibility as a source for the bureau. The team also interviewed Steele for 16 hours in June, delving into his extensive work on Russian interference efforts globally, his intelligence-collection methods and his findings about Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who the FBI ultimately surveilled.
The president and other critics of the Russia investigation have long maintained that the bureau inappropriately “spied” on the Trump campaign using unverified information provided by Steele. And Barr poured gas on those complaints in March, telling lawmakers that he believes “spying did occur” on the campaign in 2016.
Barr is now conducting his own review of those efforts, led by the U.S. attorney John Durham, into the FBI’s conduct in 2016. Trump turbocharged Barr’s separate probe, giving the attorney general sweeping declassification authority for intelligence findings, a power usually delegated to intelligence agency leaders for their own evidence.
Durham is also helming yet another probe that is looking at whether the intelligence community acted improperly in 2016, and whether it was wrong to conclude that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to help Trump get elected in 2016. Durham’s wide latitude has alarmed some in the national security community who worry about its effect on the apolitical nature of intelligence gathering.
And given former CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s prior review — not to mention that of Mueller and Congress — the move has also sparked cries of hypocrisy from those who say Trump is seeking his own “do-over,” something the president frequently accuses Democrats of attempting with their ongoing congressional hearings on the subject and mounting subpoenas of Mueller’s witnesses.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said in June that the panel has “very little visibility” into the three investigations, despite asking the administration to keep his committee informed.
The biggest outstanding case from the Mueller era involves Stone, the longtime Trump adviser who is set to go on trial Nov. 5 on charges of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering. Stone pleaded not guilty in the case, which was originally brought by the special counsel but has since been handed off to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C.
So far, Stone’s outspoken social media posts attacking the government’s case has drawn the most media attention. A judge eventually banned Stone from social media for some of the posts, ruling that they defied a court-imposed gag order.
The former Trump campaign deputy chairman still awaits sentencing for pleading guilty to Mueller in February 2018 on charges of financial fraud and lying to investigators.
Gates already served as a star witness helping the government secure a conviction against his former boss, Paul Manafort. And he may get called again in the Stone trial, as well as in the Justice Department’s other upcoming case against former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig.
Federal prosecutors and an attorney for Gates don’t have to update the court again about their plans until Aug. 30.
It’s been more than 18 months since former national security adviser Michael Flynn became Trump’s highest-ranking ex-official to plead guilty,
Flynn — who admitting in December 2017 to making false statements to the FBI about his remarks about contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition — has had his sentencing delayed for more than a year at Mueller’s request, as the retired general and former Defense Intelligence Agency chief submitted to about 20 interviews in various other investigations.
He still doesn’t have a sentencing date. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan pushed back imposing a sentence on Flynn last December so that he could demonstrate further cooperation with prosecutors by testifying against his former business partner, Bijan Rafiekian, who faced charges over unregistered lobbying work the two men did relating to Turkey during the Trump campaign.
But Flynn’s testimony never happened. Instead, early last month, Flynn dropped the D.C.-based white-collar attorneys who negotiated his plea and switched to a new team headed by Mueller critic Sidney Powell. Within weeks, Flynn’s cooperative relationship with prosecutors appeared to break down and they abandoned plans to call Flynn at the Rafiekian trial.
Prosecutors managed to win the case against Rafiekian on Tuesday as a jury in Alexandria, Va. returned two guilty verdicts. He’s set for sentencing October 18.
The impact of the recent drama on Flynn’s plea deal and ultimate sentence is uncertain. Rafiekian’s trial brought a cryptic disclosure by the government that the lobbying contract may have been a deliberate attempt by the Turkish government to curry favor with Flynn because of his senior role in the Trump campaign.
Flynn’s team says he’s still cooperating, but prosecutors and Sullivan may disagree, increasing the prospects of a prison sentence for the former Trump White House official — unless Trump steps in with a pardon. A court hearing on next steps for Flynn is set for Aug. 27.
Craig, a highly-regarded attorney who served as President Barack Obama’s first White House counsel, is an unlikely figure to be enmeshed in Mueller’s probe. But the special counsel investigation set in motion inquiries that have left Craig facing trial next month on a pair of felony false-statement charges.
The case stems from a report Craig was hired to prepare in 2012 reviewing Ukraine’s prosecution of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko for corruption. Manafort played a key role in commissioning the report, which was requested by the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice, but U.S. prosecutors say almost all of the $4 million bill for the report was secretly paid by a Ukrainian steel magnate, Victor Pinchuk.
Craig was indicted in April on charges he lied, misled and caused others at his former law firm, Skadden Arps, to make false statements and omissions to the Justice Department about his role in publicizing the report. Craig’s defense claims he never lied to DOJ officials and had no legal obligation to provide them with greater detail about his work.
Craig is set to face a jury trial beginning Aug. 12 in Washington, but his defense is hoping the judge grants pending motions to cut back the case or throw it out entirely.
Manafort, already serving seven-and-a-half years for his conviction and guilty plea from the Mueller probe, will be back in the news in early September.
That’s when his legal team must file its first defense motions in New York State Supreme Court, where Manafort has pleaded not guilty to a series of state-level bank- and financial-fraud charges that echo the case he fought against Mueller.
Meanwhile, several more federal investigations with Mueller’s fingerprints still remain in the air.
Mueller mentioned in his report a dozen other instances where it “identified evidence of potential criminal activity” that were beyond the scope of his Russia probe — referring matters over to others at DOJ, the FBI or other “appropriate law enforcement authorities.” Details about each of those cases were blacked out in the final report, and no new information about any of them has since come to light.
During his testimony on Wednesday, Mueller repeatedly deferred on questions from lawmakers because of unspecified ongoing law enforcement actions.
That also remains the rationale DOJ is using to reject transparency in other cases, including a federal magistrate judge’s opinion released Monday denying a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by The New York Times seeking communications between DOJ and a pro-Kremlin political party that paid Manafort. The judge’s ruling cites DOJ, which “maintains that releasing the records reasonably is likely to cause interference with pending or prospective law enforcement proceedings.”
Team Trump itself isn’t in the clear just yet, even as the Southern District of New York earlier this month said it was done with a portion of its probe dealing with potential campaign finance violations tied to the campaign’s 2016 hush-money payments.
Mueller, for one, answered in the affirmative when asked by Colorado GOP Rep. Ken Buck on Wednesday if he believed Trump could still be charged with obstruction of justice after he left office. That’s a notion the president dismisses, calling out a reporter who asked him about the special counsel’s testimony on the topic as “fake news” and “one of the worst.”
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan also still haven’t given any recent updates on other potential Trump-themed investigations, including an examination of foreign donations to Trump’s January 2017 inauguration. A source familiar with the probe told POLITICO earlier this week that the inaugural committee submitted the last of the requested documents in April to comply with a subpoena that the Southern District of New York sent in February.
Mueller’s efforts are also going to get the book treatment. And the comic book treatment.
Andrew Weissmann, a former special counsel deputy who Mueller praised Wednesday as “one of the more talented attorneys we have on board,” is reportedly writing a memoir for a big-time publisher and an eager audience hopeful he’ll spill dirt on the inner workings of the probe.
A graphic novel is also coming next April. And a Hollywood production also seems next. After all, there’s already been one dramatic Broadway reading with celebrities playing the part of key figures in the investigation. And Buzzfeed long ago cast the inevitable film, with their suggestions of James Cromwell starring as Mueller, Alec Baldwin playing Trump and Steve Carell in the role of Flynn.