Abbreviated pundit roundup: Protecting Mueller's investigation, California wildfires and more
We begin today’s roundup with a very important piece by Nelson W. Cunningham, former federal prosecutor and general counsel of the White House Office of Administration, on the transparent ploy by Donald Trump to hinder Robert Mueller’s investigation and the ability of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to curtail the investigation even without firing Mueller:
[T]here is another, more insidious threat to the investigation: that Whitaker will curtail it without firing Mueller and that, because of a loophole in the special-counsel regulations, the public would not find out until far too late. On “Fox News Sunday” this past weekend, Trump said he wouldn’t stop Whitaker if he wanted to limit the investigation. “It’s going to be up to him,” Trump said. “I would not get involved.”
The regulations establish the special counsel’s independence and give him a wide ambit, but they also require him to report — in advance — to the attorney general all significant actions that might be taken. The attorney general, in turn, may request that the special counsel explain a contemplated action, and “may, after review, conclude that the action is so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.”
The attorney general is directed to give “great weight” to the special counsel’s views but, otherwise, his discretion to overrule is broad and cannot be appealed.
Here’s the loophole in regulations that would keep Congress from learning about such an overruling in a timely way: The attorney general is required to notify Congress that he had taken the action only “upon conclusion of the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
Harry Litman, a former deputy assistant attorney general, provides an overview of the status of the investigation at The Los Angeles Times:
If any of the as-yet uncharged cooperating defendants opts to go to trial, that process will take at least many months. And we likely have not seen the end of Mueller’s efforts to secure information — or, preferably, testimony — from the president. Trump’s answers to Mueller’s initial written questions are supposed to be submitted to the investigators this week, but they won’t begin to provide a satisfactory account of the president’s conduct and mental state.
Even if Mueller is not about to close up shop, it is increasingly likely that the full contours of his inquiry will be sketched out and known to the public by year’s end. For the president and his circle, it is not shaping up to be a pretty picture.