Mueller's Biographer Says Special Counsel Investigation May Be Nearing Final Stages
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
President Trump's sit-down with Vladimir Putin looked set to go ahead on the sidelines of the G-20 summit this week. Then Trump threatened to call it off. Yesterday he said it was probably on. And then from Air Force One en route to Argentina, Trump tweeted he was pulling out. The bottom line is they may have an impromptu chat in Buenos Aires. Who knows? There is nothing on the formal schedule.
What we do know is that hanging over any meeting between the leaders of the United States and Russia is Robert Mueller, the special counsel who has been investigating ties between Russia and Trump and who this week showed his hand in a number of interesting ways - prompting journalist Garrett Graff to ask, is Robert Mueller's endgame in sight? Graff explores that question in Wired magazine this week, and he joins me now. Hey there, Garrett.
GARRETT GRAFF: Hi.
KELLY: Now, as is prone to happen in 2018, there have been twists and turns even since you filed this story. And we're going to get to some of those. But to travel far, far back in time, all the way to Monday of this week...
GRAFF: A forgotten time long ago.
KELLY: Yes, the Dark Ages. This was the day that Mueller's team alleged that Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chair, had lied to the FBI. And you argue in your piece in Wired that this day, Monday, may end up ranking among the most consequential days yet of the Mueller probe. Why?
GRAFF: It's incredibly hard obviously to read the tea leaves of this investigation. You know, it's surprised us at every turn and often surprises us multiple times within a single day. But it seemed like Monday was the beginning of the end - that the decision to declare Paul Manafort as noncooperative and move forward with his sentencing appears to be perhaps a way that Mueller is trying to move forward with publishing something that could look like the Mueller report - that he plans to file sometime presumably next week a document outlining with the court all of Paul Manafort's lies and crimes.
KELLY: So if that is one way that Mueller may be showing his hand or about to show his hand, let me fast-forward you now to yesterday, which is when longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleads guilty again - this time of lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow. How does that shift the picture?
GRAFF: It's one of the most significant moves that we've seen so far from Mueller because what it does is connect Donald Trump and the Trump Organization directly to Russia and directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin during the course of the 2016 campaign.
KELLY: And how so? How are they now coming together?
GRAFF: Well, what you have is Michael Cohen trying to contact and gain the assistance of Vladimir Putin himself to secure the funding and the approval for Trump Tower Moscow as late as the spring of 2016, well into the period where Donald Trump has secured the GOP nomination for president of the United States.
KELLY: One of the aspects of Mueller's strategy appears to have been - he's kind of writing whatever final report he's going to produce at the end of this as he goes. I mean, he's been producing these very detailed court filings.
GRAFF: Exactly. And people seem to be waiting for there to be some hardback book that gets published at the end of this that is labeled the Mueller report.
KELLY: Like 9/11 Commission style.
GRAFF: Exactly. And I think most people are missing that he is writing a lot of that report in public with every court filing - where the details that he puts into these are far more than is strictly necessary for the criminal prosecution that he's attempting to pursue. So when you look at the totality of what Bob Mueller has published in these indictments and these plea agreements...
KELLY: There's a lot there.
GRAFF: Well, it's about 300 pages of what a Bob Mueller report would look like at the end.
KELLY: So to your key question, is Bob Mueller's endgame in sight?
GRAFF: I think it is. You know, it's incredibly hard, as I said, to understand where this investigation is going day to day. But Bob Mueller has to know that his investigation was under threat potentially after the election...
KELLY: And after Attorney General Jeff Sessions being fired.
GRAFF: Absolutely - and that he, I think, appears to be ready for some rapid movement in the weeks ahead. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean this is going to come to a quick conclusion. The prosecutions for Watergate stretched out over the course of almost a decade. But this is, I think, a case where - you know, George Papadopoulos went to prison for his 14-day sentence last Monday.
KELLY: Another former Trump aide, we should mention.
GRAFF: Yes - and that I think by the time George Papadopoulos comes out of prison, we're going to know a lot more about this case.
KELLY: Journalist and Mueller biographer Garrett Graff. Garrett, thank you.
GRAFF: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.