What's next for Mueller's Trump-Russia probe?

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 22 people and companies in the past year and is showing no signs of stopping.

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    It's a rare day that we don't hear or read criticism from the US President Donald Trump about the special counsel investigating potential collusion between his campaign and Russian officials.

    If you read that and the words "witch-hunt" didn't jump to mind, you probably aren't following the president on Twitter.

    He often criticises his own Justice Department and labels the people investigating him as Democrats.

    To be clear, the person in charge of the investigation and everyone above him are all registered Republicans.

    This just doesn't happen often in the United States. For most past presidents the wall between the judiciary and the Oval is sacrosanct.

    The last president to attack federal investigators and attorneys was Richard Nixon. It didn't work out well for him.

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    Still, as the president continues the near-daily barrage of attacks it is having an impact on this base.

    Republicans are increasingly losing faith in Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

    According to the NPR/Marist poll, only 17 percent of Republicans asked have a favourable opinion of Mueller, and a majority 55 percent say his investigation is unfair.

    That matters because Trump has already discredited the media, who his supporters believe are fake news.

    If they lose faith in the judiciary, they are unlikely to be convinced of anything his investigators uncover.

    Trump campaign 

    Trump often says there is no evidence of collusion. Technically there is no crime of collusion; there can be crimes called conspiracy.

    And his former campaign manager has already been charged with conspiring against the US.

    Paul Manafort is facing a host of charges ranging from tax fraud to failing to register as a foreign lobbyist.

    Most of the charges stem from the work he did with pro-Russian politicians from Ukraine.

    In all, five people have pleaded guilty in the Mueller probe. Three of those are people who worked on the Trump campaign - Manafort's deputy Rick Gates, his former National Security adviser Mike Flynn and a foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos. All three are believed to be cooperating with investigators.

    And Trump's potential legal problems are only expanding. Because of information the Mueller team uncovered, his personal lawyer Michael Cohen is being investigated by another federal prosecutor in New York.

    It's really hard to get a warrant to search a lawyer's office and home, but the New York investigators were able to convince a judge that they had enough evidence to make it necessary.

    It has since come out that he was pitching companies to pay him for advice on dealing with the new administration.

    Cohen was also well known as someone who liked to record conversations. It's not clear if he kept the recordings, but we believe the FBI was able to take more than a dozen old mobile phones and computers.

    Presidential subpoena?

    In the year that has passed, the Mueller team has indicted a total of 22 people and companies.

    He has accused Russians of directly interfering in the US election. He shows no signs of being anywhere close to done.

    I talked to one legal expert and he says Mueller's investigation is moving at a really rapid pace, considering how other investigations usually proceed.

    "As far as Trump saying no collusion, he can't know that yet and nobody can know that," said Paul Schiff Berman, George Washington University law professor.

    "We don't know how much Mueller knows and we don't know how much Mueller can prove," he told Al Jazeera.

    "Remember before a month ago we didn't know that he had any information about Cohen and it turns out, he was collecting information for at least six months, so we don't know the scope of what he can prove."

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    Vice President Mike Pence recently came out and said it was time for the special counsel to wrap up his investigation.

    That seems unlikely. The next step for him is to interview the president.

    It was reported that Mueller has told Trump's lawyers he will subpoena him if necessary.

    Trump's attorneys have publicly said they are not sure if they will agree to have the president testify.

    They can say all they want, but they can't really stop it. The legal precedent says even a US president has to comply with a subpoena.

    As far as Trump saying no collusion, he can't know that yet and nobody can know that

    Paul Schiff Berman, law professor

    He could choose to plead the fifth - basically stay silent as to not incriminate himself. That would be politically damaging since Trump has said only guilty people plead the fifth.

    If he talks and lies, that's a crime even if he is not under oath. This is a president that one newspaper says has lied more than 3,000 times since taking office.

    It has been shocking how little the Mueller team is leaking. We have virtually no idea what they know or what they can prove.

    But we can see in the information contained in the indictments that they are close to the president.

    It seems likely in the coming months Trump will have a choice to make when it comes to Mueller. Each decision comes with its own unique set of potential problems and consequences.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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