“We Know a Lot About What Robert Mueller Is Doing. We Also Know Nothing at All”
There’s a temptation to treat every revelation about Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, every breadcrumb about its progress, as the missing piece bringing us closer to the undoing of the Trump administration. That’s been the norm since May, when the Department of Justice appointed Mueller as special counsel to lead a wide-ranging investigation that, in time, has featured everything from early-morning raids to grand-jury subpoenas to document-preservation requests that have kept Donald Trump, his associates, and the White House on edge.
All of these pieces work in tandem at a slow, steady pace, and for analysts or the chattering class to pretend that they know Mueller’s game plan sells him short. “Anybody who purports to explain what’s going on is talking out of an orifice other than their mouths,” Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of Lawfare and a leading anti-Trump critic, told an audience at the International Student House in Washington in August. Wittes isn’t a lawyer, but those who are and have worked these kinds of cases are of the same mind. “Until such time the special counsel’s office decides to go public, you’re not going to really know other than to the extent certain attorneys or certain witnesses decide to speak freely about what has transpired, which they’re permitted to do. But the government really isn’t,” said Robert Ray, a former federal prosecutor and independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation. “It’s kind of a one-sided process.”
The one-sidedness is a feature, not a bug, of the Mueller probe, which in many respects shares elements with other large-scale federal investigations implicating dozens, if not hundreds, of witnesses and subjects, many of whom may have done nothing wrong yet know information that may be of use to the special counsel. As much as the #resistance to Trump may pine for his downfall, it’s not Mueller’s role to throw meat at them. Due process is still something he must watch out for, and in a politicized environment where even his sterling reputation has been called into question, any misstep could fuel accusations of prosecutorial overreach. If we learn, as we have, that Hope Hicks or Sean Spicer or White House counsel Donald McGahn have lawyered up and that Mueller wants to talk to them, that doesn’t mean they’re in trouble — though they may well be down the road if they’re found to have lied to Mueller in service of Trump. All retaining counsel signals is that they may be privy to facts that may help Mueller understand where to take his investigation. “If you were to be contacted by the special counsel’s investigation for an interview or subpoena before the grand jury, you’d be out of your mind not to have counsel represent you,” Ray said, taking his sweet time with words out of your mind. “So the mere fact that someone has counsel with regard to even something as simple as an interview before the special counsel’s office doesn’t really signal anything.”