Michael's Column

The President Is Foolish to Delay Mueller

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Written by Michael Smerconish

The president has repeatedly accused Robert Mueller’s Russia probe of being a witch-hunt. And Friday, a district judge in one of Paul Manafort’s court cases seemed to agree. District Judge T.S. Ellis, a Reagan appointee, told the prosecutor, “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” instead accusing Mueller that the interest in Manafort is based on potential of leading to Trump’s “prosecution or impeachment.” He also noted that Manafort’s crimes committed before the Trump campaign does not relate to the Russian government coordination issue.

Also on Friday, President Trump repeated his claim that he wants to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller, with caveats: “I would love to speak because we’ve done nothing wrong…I would love to go, I would love to speak, but I have to find that we’re going to be treated fairly. I have to find that we’re going to be treated fairly.”

Trump’s statement is just the latest chapter in the seemingly endless will-he-or-won’t-he gamesmanship surrounding a possible Mueller-Trump showdown. Despite months of talking about the two meeting, it’s still not clear whether the president will possibly grant an interview – or be subpoenaed – in the Russia probe.

The latest is that a source tells CNN’s Jim Acosta the president’s lawyers and Mueller are “making a final push” toward a decision and that there is a 50/50 chance of an interview happening. Should the president be subpoenaed to testify, this source said the likelihood is that the Trump legal team would fight that all the way to the Supreme Court, a process that could take another 9 to 15 months.

Here’s what strikes me: the ongoing delays are not to the president’s advantage because Mueller cannot wrap up his probe without clear resolution about whether the president is going to testify.

If you look at the list of leaked possible questions, the interview would take two or three days of testimony. New hire Rudy Giuliani claims he would limit the president’s interview to two or three hours while he simultaneously savaged the premise of the investigation and attacked the role of his former protégé James Comey.

The longer this posturing goes on, the more likely it pushes the conclusion beyond the midterm election, which would have once seemed unfathomable, but, now, there’s no end in sight. The lingering of the investigation raises the prospect that when it is resolved, Democrats could control the House and maybe even the Senate.

And who controls Congress is important because Mueller is, in all probability, preparing a report to give to Rod Rosenstein that will then go to the Congress. The report in some people’s minds, depending on their partisan leaning, will be grounds for impeachment.

My point is, it’s to the president’s advantage that this Mueller probe be wrapped up as soon as possible, while Republicans are in control of the House and Senate. Who is in control will determine how the report is received and acted upon. If it happens early enough, even if there’s still a blue wave in November and the Dems take Congress next January, I think it may be tougher for the Democrats to dig up the Mueller report with the same kind of urgency if it’s been out for a long time.

Since both parties are obviously poised to pounce on whatever Mueller should report from their respective viewpoints – with the GOP saying “nothing to see here” and the Dems crying bloody murder – the best hope Trump has is for it to be released while the Dems have no real power to act on it.

And therefore all the dickering over his testimony? He should bring it to a close. Otherwise, he inevitably keeps the prospect of impeachment in the national discussion.

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.