A few months ago, Donald Trump surprised White House reporters by making unscheduled comments about a provocative subject: Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal. More specifically, the president made a variety of comments about how much he's looking forward to speaking to Mueller and his team under oath.
"I'm looking forward to it, actually," Trump said, adding that he'd "love to" talk to the special counsel investigators. The president went on to say he's "absolutely" prepared to answer questions under oath.
NBC News reported late yesterday, however, that the prospects for a presidential interview have "drastically dimmed."
Special counsel Robert Mueller's office and President Donald Trump's legal team are now proceeding with strategies that presume a presidential interview will likely not take place as part of the Russia investigation, after months of talks between the two sides collapsed earlier this week, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.
While the negotiations over a possible interview continued earlier this week, the FBI's raid on Michael Cohen's office and hotel room apparently changed the overall calculus.
And where does that leave us? If Mueller and his investigators aren't going to speak directly with the president, it brings us to a point in the trajectory of this story that's likely to be a very big deal.
Rachel highlighted this portion of the NBC News report on the show last night: "Prior to Monday's raid, Mueller's team had been aiming to finalize a report on its findings on whether the president has tried to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation in the coming months, as early as May or as late as July, three sources said.... Now, according to two sources, Mueller's team may be able to close the obstruction probe more quickly as they will not need to prepare for the interview or follow up on what the president says."
At face value, it may seem like good news for Trump if the special counsel's team is "able to close the obstruction probe more quickly," but it's really not. From the NBC News report:
Three sources familiar with the investigation said the findings Mueller has collected on Trump's attempts to obstruct justice include: His intent to fire former FBI Director James Comey; his role in the crafting of a misleading public statement on the nature of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son and Russians; Trump's dangling of pardons before grand jury witnesses who might testify against him; and pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.Mueller would then likely send a confidential report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation. Rosenstein could decide whether to make the report public and send its findings to Congress. From there, Congress would then decide whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, said two of the sources.
We had some sense that a Mueller report on alleged obstruction was in the works, but this NBC News report moves our understanding of this much further -- identifying four key areas of focus for the special counsel's probe, at least insofar as possible presidential obstruction is concerned.
And if the prospects of Mueller and his team speaking with Trump have dimmed, it means we'll be hearing quite a bit more about this sooner rather than later.