The Slatest

Mueller Reportedly Tells Trump Lawyers the President Is Still Not a Criminal Target of Russia Investigation

President Trump during a working session with mayors in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 24, 2018 in Washington, DC.
President Trump during a working session with mayors in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 24, 2018 in Washington, DC.
MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

As recently as a month ago, President Trump was still not a criminal target of the Russia investigation, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. Special counsel Robert Mueller told Trump’s lawyers as much in early March as part of the negotiation over the possibility of doing an interview with Trump as part of the investigation. Mueller told the Trump legal team while the president is not a target (yet), he is a “subject of his investigation,” a designation given to a “person [who] has engaged in conduct that is under investigation but there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges,” according to the Post.

During that conversation, Mueller indicated the thrust of the interview would center on possible obstruction of justice by the president and that, while Mueller is required to submit a confidential report of the special counsel’s findings and recommendations to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to the Post “Mueller’s investigators have indicated to the president’s legal team that they are considering writing reports on their findings in stages—with the first report focused on the obstruction issue.”

What would the significance be of “reports” to “answer the public’s questions” authored by Mueller and his team? From the Post:

[S]everal legal scholars and impeachment experts believe Mueller may conclude he does not have the authority to charge a sitting president with a crime under an opinion written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 1973 and reaffirmed in 2000. If Mueller finds Trump engaged in criminal conduct, he could detail it in a report, experts argue, and let Congress to decide whether to launch impeachment proceedings based on Mueller’s findings.

It’s unclear how the possibility of written reports, which Trump advisers reportedly worry could be scathing, would affect the president’s willingness to submit to questions from the special counsel. It seems hard to imagine a situation where Mueller submitted his findings, even without criminal charges, and Rosenstein simply kept them to himself. The calls to release the details of the sprawling, high-profile probe in the name of the public interest would surely be overwhelming.