The special counsel investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government has been “just about finished” almost from the moment it began. Almost every Republican pundit, strategist, and Fox News ‘expert’ has opined that the final report was due any day now, any day now, any day … for more than a year. But acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker might be the one Republican who should have some genuine insight into the timeline since, in theory, he’s had direct control of the Mueller investigation ever since taking the helm from former attorney general Jefferson Sessions.
So when, as the Washington Post reports, Whitaker delivers the “almost over,” it would seem like a real possibility.
Acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker said Monday that he has been “fully briefed” on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election and that, “right now, the investigation is close to being completed.”
Except … the brief statement captured in the short Post article doesn’t quite speak to everything Whitaker said. The actual statement from Whitaker, as captured by ABC News, is a lot more equivocal.
“I’ve been fully briefed on the investigation, and I look forward to … uh… director Mueller delivering the final report. And I … uh ...you know I’m not gonna talk about an open and ongoing investigation otherwise. The statements that I made were as a private citizen, only with publicly available information, um, I’m comfortable with, uh, the decisions that were made … uh ... are going to be reviewed … uh, you know, either through the various means we have. But right now the investigation is, I think, uh, close to being completed, and I hope that we can get the report from director Mueller as soon as possible.”
It’s not “right now, the investigation is close to being completed.” It’s “But right now the investigation is, I think, close to being completed,” followed immediately by an “I hope.” Despite starting off his statement with a claim that he’s been fully briefed … Whitaker seems a lot less than fully confident about that timeline.
There are many reasons to think that the investigation is drawing near a conclusion, but there are also several reasons to think that conclusion isn’t coming in the next few days. For one thing, Mueller recently extended the life of his grand jury by six months, pushing their last date into June. Also, the raid on Trump confidant Roger Stone’s home was clearly conducted not as a straightforward arrest, but for evidence collection, with raids on Stone’s studio and office carried out simultaneously with the raid on his home. It seems unlikely that Mueller would collect a significant amount of evidence, then close the books on the investigation before his team has a chance to sift through the recovered documents, hard drives, and other devices.
Stone’s indictment also does not include conspiracy charges, which would seem to leave a loose end dangling. Russia conducted a conspiracy against the United States, and that conspiracy included an outreach to the Trump campaign. Many inside that campaign reached back, or even initiated contact with Russia. And still … there’s been no clear charge of conspiracy from the Trump side. Based on the other charges against Stone, it would seem to be a very small leap to such an allegation. Not having it there would seem to indicate either no one is going to be charged with this crime … or that Mueller still has at least one more round of indictments to go before the pen goes down on that report.