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Scope of Mueller's probe worries Team Trump and its allies

As the Russia scandal intensifies, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is facing threats from Trump World -- and its allies in Congress.
Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing.
Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing.

In police dramas on television, there are certain plot developments that give away the game. For example, when detectives show up at a suspect's home, and the suspect seems concerned about the police looking beneath his shed, it's a safe bet there's some incriminating evidence under that shed.

With this in mind, I'm fascinated by Trump World talking publicly about the areas it wants Special Counsel Robert Mueller to avoid.

[T]he president's personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, told POLITICO on Thursday he is primed to lodge formal objections with either Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if the Russia investigation took a wide or unexpected detour into issues like an old Trump real-estate deal."We'd view that as outside the scope of legitimate inquiry," Sekulow said. "We'd raise it."

Donald Trump made a similar comment over the summer to the New York Times, when the president said it'd be "a violation" if Mueller examined his personal finances.

Just as a matter of strategy, warnings like these seem unwise. If there's one thing Trump and his team should avoid doing, it's telling federal investigators, "Whatever you do, don't look over there."

What's more, the warnings don't appear to be working. The Washington Post noted yesterday that Mueller's interest in Russian contacts "may extend to Trump's business, as well, with the special counsel's office recently asking for records related to a failed 2015 proposal for a Moscow Trump Tower, according to a person familiar with the request."

If the president's rhetoric from July reflected his genuine intentions, this presumably means Trump will be more inclined to take steps to fire Mueller and derail the investigation.

Meanwhile, Trump World isn't the only piece on the chessboard pressuring the special counsel. Politico reported last week:

Three House Republicans on Friday moved to pressure special counsel Robert Mueller to resign over what they contend are "obvious conflicts of interest," the latest instance of rising GOP resistance to his Russia probe.Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), introduced a measure that, while nonbinding, would put the House on record describing Mueller, a former FBI director, as unfit to lead the probe because of his relationship with James Comey, his successor at the bureau.

As of this morning, no other members have signed on to the resolution as co-sponsors, and it's entirely possible that this stunt will amount to nothing. But in contemporary Republican politics, dumb stunts can take root at the core of the party's agenda, so I'd recommend keeping an eye on the measure in the coming weeks and months.

For their part, congressional Democrats are urging House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to take steps to protect Mueller from political pressure, and yesterday, the Wisconsin Republican suggested the special counsel would be allowed to complete his work without interference.

"We're not going to interfere with his investigation," Ryan said yesterday. "The investigation will take its course, and we will let it take its course."

At a certain level, that's heartening, but I'd prefer not to take the Speaker's word for it. There's legislation pending to protect Mueller and his team as their investigation continues; perhaps Congress could pass it to help guarantee that the probe won't face interference?