President Trump’s lawyers and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III are hurtling toward a showdown over a year-long investigation into the president’s conduct, with Mueller pushing to write up his findings by summer’s end and Trump’s lawyers strategizing how to rebut a report that could spur impeachment hearings.
The confrontation is coming to a head as Trump and his allies ratchet up their attacks on the special counsel probe, seizing on a report released Thursday by the Justice Department’s inspector general that castigated FBI officials for their conduct during the 2016 Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, said that he planned to use the inspector general’s conclusions to undermine Mueller, suggesting he may ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to examine the current probe.
“We want to see if we can have the investigation and special counsel declared illegal and unauthorized,” Giuliani said in an interview Friday.
In the meantime, Trump must decide whether to do a face-to-face interview with Mueller’s team — an answer the president’s legal team expects to have in the next two weeks.
If the president agreed to a sit-down, the special counsel has told Trump’s lawyers that he could finish within roughly 90 days a report on whether Trump sought to obstruct a probe into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, according to two people familiar with the discussions. A separate report outlining Mueller’s broader findings on Russian attempts to bolster Trump’s candidacy is expected to take longer.
The confidential obstruction report, which would be delivered to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, is expected to contain the prosecutors’ conclusions about whether Trump engaged in any criminal wrongdoing by trying to derail the investigation into his campaign’s contact with Russians, according to the people.
The filing of the report could trigger a political firestorm over whether to make the special counsel’s findings public — just as this fall’s midterm campaign season kicks off.
“It’ll be a moment that polarizes the country, exposing just how divided the country is about this investigation and who’s on the other side, said former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who added that he and other Trump allies are “prepared for war.”
Among those suited up for battle: the president’s attorneys, who are readying to write a rebuttal disputing any conclusions that the president’s actions were improper or illegal.
At the center of that standoff would be Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe. Friends and foes predict he would face intense pushback over every aspect of the report — when to release the information to Congress, whether to refer the report to Congress to consider impeachment and whether to make any aspect of the report public.
“He’s the final decision-maker,” said Giuliani, adding: “There will be pressure from all ways.”
Rosenstein, who has repeatedly sought to defuse attacks on the Justice Department by the president and his congressional allies, has indicated he will only bend so far. Last month, after House Republicans threatened to impeach him for withholding investigative documents, he warned that “the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted.”
A spokesman for Rosenstein declined to comment.
That round of political and legal drama could be delayed until after the November elections if Mueller decides to hold back the report to avoid releasing it too close to Election Day, or if Trump refuses an interview and the special counsel tries to issue a subpoena, kicking off a lengthy court struggle.
In the meantime, anticipation for Mueller’s report has put Washington on a kind of emergency storm watch.
“What we’re going through…