Donald Trump is still a central focus of Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe, with The Washington Post reporting on Tuesday that Trump “remains under investigation.”
According to the Post, “Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III informed President Trump’s attorneys last month that he is continuing to investigate the president but does not consider him a criminal target at this point, according to three people familiar with the discussions.”
More from the new report:
In private negotiations in early March about a possible presidential interview, Mueller described Trump as a subject of his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Prosecutors view someone as a subject when that person has engaged in conduct that is under investigation but there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges.
Trump and his supporters will likely point to this report as goods news, but it’s important to remember that Mueller told this to the White House as part of a negotiation to get the president to sit down for an interview.
Divulging to Trump that he is a non-criminal target could be a negotiating tactic for Mueller. After all, if Mueller told the president he was on the verge of being criminally charged, Trump would be much less likely to cooperate.
Not to mention: A sit-down interview with Trump is key to building any possible criminal case against him, particularly when it comes to obstruction of justice.
Bigger news: Mueller is preparing a report on Trump obstruction of justice
The most important part of The Washington Post story isn’t the news that Trump is not officially a criminal target of the investigation. It’s that Mueller is preparing a report about whether the president’s personal actions since taking office constitute obstruction of justice.
More from the Post report:
The special counsel also told Trump’s lawyers that he is preparing a report about the president’s actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice, according to two people with knowledge of the conversations.
Mueller reiterated the need to interview Trump — both to understand whether he had any corrupt intent to thwart the Russia investigation and to complete this portion of his probe, the people said.
Clearly, Trump is still the central figure in Mueller’s investigation. The fact that Mueller told the White House that Trump isn’t under criminal investigation is essentially meaningless. It could change at a moment’s notice as the special counsel continues to gather more evidence.
The fact that the president remains an active target suggests that Mueller is still working to compile more information. Getting the president to sit down for an interview is key to that process.
Once the president opens his mouth in a potential special counsel interview, he’ll likely give Robert Mueller all the information he needs to bury Trump, if not criminally then certainly politically.