Yesterday Was a Troubling Day in Mueller News

I have long been worried that Special Counsel Bob Mueller's investigation will effectively, even if not intentionally, create loads of time and space for Republicans to so thoroughly consolidate power that they won't have to care about his conclusions, even if those eventual conclusions — which we may or may not see, at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's discretion — do include recommendations for serious, meaningful repercussions for the Trump administration, Donald Trump's associates, and/or people who colluded to influence the 2016 election.

Yesterday came the first sentencing in Mueller's investigation: Dutch Attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan, who is the son of a Russian oligarch named German Khan, got 30 days in jail and a $20k fine for charges brought in February regarding his having made false statements to the FBI about contact with Rick Gates, deputy chair of Trump's 2016 campaign.

Also yesterday, the Washington Post published a notable report by Carol D. Leonnig and Robert Costa: "Mueller Told Trump's Attorneys the President Remains Under Investigation But Is Not Currently a Criminal Target."
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III informed [Donald] Trump's attorneys last month that he is continuing to investigate the president but does not consider him a criminal target at this point, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

In private negotiations in early March about a possible presidential interview, Mueller described Trump as a subject of his investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Prosecutors view someone as a subject when that person has engaged in conduct that is under investigation but there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges.

The special counsel also told Trump's lawyers that he is preparing a report about the president's actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice, according to two people with knowledge of the conversations.

Mueller reiterated the need to interview Trump — both to understand whether he had any corrupt intent to thwart the Russia investigation and to complete this portion of his probe, the people said.
So, a couple of curious things about that disclosure: First, Mueller told Trump a month ago that he was not "currently" a criminal target. The investigation has continued in the interim. Presumably, Trump is nonetheless still not a criminal target — but, if that's the case, why is the story only about what Mueller told Trump a month ago?

That suggests the sources don't know for certain whether Trump continues not to be considered a criminal target, which means this information is less likely to be coming from Mueller's team and more likely to be coming from Trump's team.

If that is the case, then this report is a response to the day's earlier news about Van Der Zwaan's sentencing. It also means that the WaPo is carrying water for the Trump administration, but endeavoring to conceal its role in disseminating Trump propaganda, as McKay Coppins recently disclosed is common practice among reporters.

If that is indeed what the WaPo is doing, it's happening in the context of Trump waging a war on Amazon because its owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns the WaPo. It looks an awful lot to me like the WaPo agreed to publish a story favorable to the president to get him to lay off his criticism of Amazon. Not good.

And if I'm wrong, and the sourcing for the story was from Mueller's team, then what we have is a whole other problem — because that means that Mueller chose to broadcast he's laying off the president on the same day a light sentence was handed out, which sends a very particular message. Not good, either.

All of this on the same day that Rosenstein announced he appointed Edward O'Callaghan to serve as the acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, positioning him to "oversee the FBI's ongoing investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election."

None of these things strike me as good signs. Or even neutral ones.

As ever on this subject, I hope that I am wrong.

I don't enjoy, at all, filling the role of a cynic about the potential for holding Trump accountable. To the absolute contrary, I wish I had abundant faith in the process, and that I was writing instead a piece detailing all the reasons I was hopeful some meaningful accountability was imminent.

But that would not be an honest assessment. The truth is that I am very troubled. And if you are, too, you're not alone.

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