Michael's Column

Mueller and the Midterms

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Written by Michael Smerconish

On Friday, the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on seven of Russia’s riches men and 17 top government officials as punishment for meddling in the 2016 election. And CNN is reporting that the president has begun the initial steps of going over potential topics for an interview with special counsel.

These headlines followed a story earlier in the week in The Washington Post, under the banner, “Mueller told Trump’s attorneys the president remains under investigation but is not currently a criminal target.”

In the lead of the story, it says, “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.”

Lets game out what this means.

First, ‘last month?’ Notice the White House did not leak this information then, leading me to think that the president and his lawyers did not accept the news as exoneration.  After all, he’s had no reluctance to tweet criticism of the FBI while touting no collusion – so you might expect high-fiving and celebrating upon hearing the news that the president is not a target.

But instead it was greeted with radio silence.  And only a later leak put the news in The Washington Post.

And second, and in a more important, big-picture sense, it suggests to me that the real outcome of the Mueller probe might rest with the midterm election.

That’s because when Mueller finishes his work, he will give a report to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the probe given the recusal of attorney general Jeff Sessions. It will be Rosenstein who determines whether the report is made public and if it is shared with Congress.

It’s likely the report sees the light of day, and when it is, it could be reminiscent of when Jim Comey in July of 2016 made public comments on the probe of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, saying she had not violated the law but that she had been “extremely careless.”

Remember, Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to take control of the House of Representatives. On Friday, the Cook Political Report, well-respected for its prognostication, moved 13 races in Democrats’ favor  – changes that mean that 50 Republican-held seats are rated as competitive, while just five(!) Democratic seats are seen that same way.

That matters because impeachment for “treason, bribery or other high crimes or misdemeanors” requires a majority vote in the House, which is tantamount to an indictment. Once the House votes for impeachment, there would be a trial in the Senate where the Chief Justice presides and a 2/3 vote is required.

Unless there is a major revelation in the report Mueller gives to Rosenstein, given our polarized climate, the potential for Trump’s removal will never get to the Senate unless Democrats control the house.

Timing, and voters’ decisions, could be everything.

About the author

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Michael Smerconish

Michael A. Smerconish is the host of The Michael Smerconish Program on SiriusXM Channel 124, the host of CNN’s “Smerconish” on Saturday mornings, newspaper columnist and author.