Midterms Pose Dilemma For Mueller

Special counsel Robert Mueller has a midterms problem.

With the elections less than three months away, Mueller is running out of time to issue more indictments or announce other major developments in his Russia probe without opening himself up to accusations of attempting to influence Election Day.

It’s a challenge that has befallen previous federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials, to the point that they now typically refrain from taking prominent actions that could have political ramifications within 60 days of a major election.

But there are no clear-cut rules, and both action and inaction can be viewed in hindsight as being politically motivated, something former FBI Director James Comey knows all too well.

There is broad speculation that President Trump or someone in his inner circle — including his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. — could be implicated in Mueller’s probe. The president, the White House and Trump’s allies have mounted a public campaign to discredit Mueller’s investigation, calling it a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

And taking public steps too close to Nov. 6 could give powerful ammunition to Mueller’s critics, according to some Republican operatives.

Ford O’Connell, another Republican strategist, argued that many of the White House tactics resemble those used by the Clinton administration to thwart Ken Starr’s investigation into the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s. The ultimate goal, he said, is to move public opinion against potential impeachment.

“A lot of what the Trump folks were doing is similar to what the Clinton folks were doing back then,” O’Connell said. “You want to undergird the public opinion about the investigation because essentially you are assuming that there is not going to be an indictment of a president. But there will be a report to Congress.”

Recent polling from Politico and Morning Consult found that Mueller’s public image is at a record low, including among Democrats and independent voters, since he took over the investigation in May 2017.

Read more from Morgan Chalfant at The Hill

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Analysis & Political Strategy