The White House braces itself for the probe of Donald Trump's presidential campaign to re-ignite. Trump's advisors are personally expressing concerns that special counsel, who has been out of the news in the past month, has gathered stealthily information and may soon release new charges or a damning final report.
Trump abruptly changed the command structure over Mueller on Wednesday, his work being under the supervision of a Republican loyalist who was openly skeptical of the authority of the special counselor and wondered how he could limit his power. But Trump and his assistants are worried about Mueller's next move with the work completed, according to a White House official and a republican with close ties to the administration.
They insisted on anonymity to comment on conversations for which they were not competent to describe.
Mueller was low last month when voters were investigating their choices for this week's elections.
But a flurry of activity during his silent period, including weeks of great testimony about Trump confidant Roger Stone and negotiations about an interview with the president, pointed to public developments ahead when researchers drew near to the key questions underlying the special advice: Trump illegally limits the investigation? And did his campaign have prior knowledge of illegally hacked democratic e-mails?
Irritated by distraction
Trump has told confidants that he remains deeply annoyed by the 18-month-old Mueller probe, believing that it is not just a "witch-hunt" but an expensive and long-lasting negative distraction. The last indication of the anger came Wednesday when he turned off his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whose disapproval opened the door for Mueller's appointment.
At this point, Trump has responded to the advice not to interfere directly, although a new chapter in the relationship with the probe may have begun with the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting prosecutor general. Even if Whitaker, former Chief of Staff of Sessions, did not curtail research, Trump could incite him to a more aggressive stance in declassifying documents that could further undermine or destroy the probe, said the White House Assistant and the Republican official.
The investigation so far has been checked by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who last year accepted Mueller and granted him fairly broad authority.
"It is very important because Whitaker's position on charges or future charges can be different from that of Rosenstein and Rosenstein Mueller had given a broad mandate to pursue various crimes," said Jeffrey Jacobovitz, criminal lawyer for Washington.
The Mueller investigation has so far yielded 32 criminal charges and four guilty pleas from Trump employees. But the work has not been done.
A clear focus is on Stone, an old political filthy impostor. The special board team investigated Stone's connection to WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign and whether he had prior knowledge of the group's plans to destroy hacked material that is damaging to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Links to WikiLeaks
Stone said he did not, but e-mails, Twitter messages and his own public statements show that he portrayed himself as connected to the WikiLeaks job. This implies that he had inside knowledge in separate e-mail exchanges with a Breitbart editor and Steve Bannon, the then Trump campaign president, a few days before WikiLeaks began to distribute thousands of e-mails stolen from campaign chairman John Podesta of Clinton.
Bannon and other Stone employees have been questioned and several witnesses have appeared before the grand jury. An employee, Jerome Corsi, said on Monday in a video recording that he had been "involved for a period of two months on a really constant basis" with Mueller's research.
On Thursday, a federal appeal court in Washington heard a challenge to Mueller's authority, led by Stone assistant Andrew Miller, who last summer defied the summons of a grand jury and was despised by a judge.
In the job of the president there remains some concern about his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., although there are no outward indications that accusations are imminent, according to a Republican in the vicinity of the White House who is not competent to speak publicly about private conversations.
Beyond Mueller, as well as within the oversight of the Department of Justice, is a federal investigation into Trumps's long-standing legal fixer, Michael Cohen, who admitted as part of a guilty plea in August to coordinate with Trump a soft money system to a porn actress to silenced an ex-Playboy model that says they had affairs with Trump.
The president has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but federal prosecutors have said that an investigation by the Grand Jury is under way and that it is targeting unspecified & # 39; others & # 39 ;. The court documents show that the behavior of Trump and that of senior officials at the Trump Organization, of which some have received immunity, have been scrutinized.
But it is unclear which additional charges are pursuing prosecutions and how many of them the president is personally concerned with. Federal prosecutors have indicated in court cases that the case concerns countless "uncharged" third parties and have protested against publishing search warrants and other documents that "certainly result in a very public board game" about their identity.
All in all Whitaker, a former American lawyer from Iowa who was appointed chief of staff of Sessions last year before the head of the Justice Department. In the months before, Whitaker was a familiar presence on CNN, where he questioned Mueller's range and reach.
In one appearance he defended a Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer from the Kremlin, with the words: "You would always keep that meeting."
He also tweeted the opinion piece of a prosecutor who described the Mueller team as a "lynch mob", and wrote his own opinion piece that Mueller would be beyond his authority if he were to fund Trump's family finances. to investigate.
Trump had enjoyed Whitaker's appearances in cable television – including one on CNN in which he suggested that the Mueller probe had no resources – and the two men soon made a commitment. Trump told employees that he felt that Whitaker & Loyal & # 39; and would not have taken himself off the Russian probe as Sessions had done, according to two Republicans close to the White House who are not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Despite the demands of Democrats and ethical watchdogs he recuperates because of his previous remarks, Whitaker showed no signs on Thursday that he intended to do so. And not everyone is convinced that he should do it.
"Based on my experience with Matt," said John Richter, a former US attorney in Oklahoma and senior official of the Bush Department of Justice, "I think he will act consistently with the best traditions of the department and will name things like he sees them. "