I Don’t Buy This Explanation

Left, President Donald Trump at the White House on Jan. 04, 2018. Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill in 2013. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images; Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
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This afternoon ABC published a story which purports to explain what was going on in the background (as I speculated here) that made President Trump dramatically up the ante in his push to end the Mueller investigation. According to ABC, within the last day President Trump had learned that Mueller had agreed to limit the scope of the questions he would ask Trump in an investigatory interview but would focus his questions on obstruction of justice.

I don’t buy this.

This simply doesn’t make sense as an explanation for Trump’s blow up because this is not different from anything that has been widely reported for some time. For months it has been widely reported that Mueller’s questions to Trump would focus on obstruction. Part of the effort to secure the interview was to finish a report on questions of obstruction of justice so that the Special Counsel could move on to finish the collusion part of the probe. He needed to talk to Trump before he could issue a report because state of mind and intent are so central to obstruction.

All the information we think we have about the Special Counsel’s goals and strategies is uncertain to a degree. But this is about as close as it gets to something we know. Even if we didn’t know this, this can hardly be a surprise to Trump and his lawyers. If anything, it is the least threatening part of the investigation. The facts seem to be broadly known. Mueller almost certainly won’t indict the President. He’ll submit a report to Congress. That won’t lead to impeachment.

It simply does not make sense that such an expected development would lead to such a dramatic escalation.

As I was writing this post, I got an alert for a CNN story. It’s similar inasmuch as it reports that the outburst came after the President’s lawyers updated him on Mueller’s latest offer. But the emphasis is a bit different. It includes passages like this.

People inside the White House said the burst of tweets reflected the anger Trump has aired privately for months, including about Sessions. Trump has been more frustrated since headlines about his former attorney Michael Cohen emerged last week. Aides say they’re working to schedule more political rallies, partly to boost Trump’s mood and distract him from the headlines about Russia.

This sounds more like the story. It’s not this latest point of negotiation about the interview. It’s something more like Cohen or Gates or maybe fears about Manafort. But I suspect it’s not general, not an incremental increase of frustration. I think it’s something specific.

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