Following reports earlier this month that three prosecutors from the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller have been reassigned to their previous postings within the Department of Justice (and another has left the DoJ entirely for a research fellowship at Columbia Law School), it appears the Mueller probe, which has persisted for roughly 18 months, has entered its final weeks, with sources within the DoJ telling Bloomberg that a final report on Mueller’s findings regarding the probe’s two most important threads – whether President Trump obstructed justice during the firing of James Comey and whether the Trump Campaign actively colluded with the Russian government – could be submitted to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein shortly after the midterm election.
However, this doesn’t mean that investigations and indictments stemming from Mueller’s findings will come to a stop: Mueller has long since started delegating different aspects of his investigation (for the example, the investigation into Michael Cohen that yielded a guilty plea in August) to other prosecutors, and still could pursue an in-person interview with Trump, despite having submitted a list of written questions to Trump’s legal team (questions about the firing of James Comey and President Trump’s tweets have been declared off limits). Though the DOJ’s policy of not indicting a sitting president could stymie any attempt to secure a grand jury subpoena.
Department of Justice guidelines suggest that prosecutors should avoid releasing politically sensitive details to the public directly ahead of an election, which is why Mueller will probably wait to wrap things up until after Nov. 6. Though there’s no guarantee that Mueller’s findings will ever be made public, since Rosenstein is under no obligation to release them (but if he doesn’t, it’s almost guaranteed that they will leak). Rosenstein has reportedly made it clear to Mueller that he wants him to wrap up the investigation as “expeditiously as possible.” If no more indictments are forthcoming, it’s expected that Mueller will move to shut the probe down.
With three weeks to go before the midterm elections, it’s unlikely Mueller will take any overt action that could be turned into a campaign issue. Justice Department guidelines say prosecutors should avoid any major steps close to an election that could be seen as influencing the outcome.
That suggests the days and weeks immediately after the Nov. 6 election may be the most pivotal time since Mueller took over the Russia investigation almost a year and a half ago. So far, Mueller has secured more than two dozen indictments or guilty pleas.
Trump’s frustration with the probe, which he routinely derides as a “witch hunt,” has been growing, prompting concerns he may try to shut down or curtail Mueller’s work at some point.
And since Mueller has been tight-lipped about his biggest bombshells dating all the way back to the Manafort indictment, it’s possible that there have been “other major developments behind the scenes.” Insiders have said that Manafort’s plea deal, struc to avoid a trial in a Washington court following his conviction in Virginia, may have “advanced” Mueller’s timeline in the collusion probe.
And whatever Manafort offered the Mueller probe to secure his plea deal, odds are it’s “something good.”
Manafort appears to have good material to offer, said Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Duke University School of Law. “He’s not going to get that deal unless he can help Mueller make a case against one or more people,” Buell said. Cooperators can’t expect leniency unless they provide “substantial assistance in the prosecution of others,” Buell added, citing sentencing guidelines.
Though the fact that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein hasn’t been fired suggests one of two things: Either that he has informally suggested that the probe won’t result in any legal action against the president, and that the extent of the findings will be one mildly embarrassing report, or that Rosenstein has somehow convinced Trump that the probe is effectively toothless as a ruse. If this is true, the probe’s biggest findings may still be ahead of us.