It’s bad—very bad.
Read: Democrats quickly confront the limits of their power to stop Trump.
All of which leads Philip Lacovara, who served in the Watergate special prosecutor’s office, to conclude that it was Mueller, not Trump, who missed his moment. Writing in The Washington Post, Lacovara worries that “by waiting until after the midterms to issue his final report about President Trump’s possible culpability, Mueller has effectively missed his market and may have doomed the investigation.” With Sessions gone and the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, no longer in charge of the investigation, Lacovara writes:
The new attorney general, whether it is Whitaker or someone else, will be free to constrain Mueller’s investigation and suppress the special counsel’s findings: Any report by Mueller must go to the attorney general, who decides what, if anything, to do with it. Sessions’s replacement will be far more comfortable suppressing the report now that firmer Republican control of the Senate protects not only Trump but also the new attorney general from any risk of being ousted in a post-impeachment trial.
Democrats have much to celebrate about the midterms, but their elation should be tempered by the realization that the election also may have spelled the end for Mueller’s Russia investigation, which was too long in getting to the punch line.
Leave aside for now the question of whether Lacovara’s critique is fair to Mueller. To assess, after all, whether Mueller should have moved faster, one would have to know more about the state of his investigation than I, at least, know. Lacovara is certainly correct about one big thing: The prospects for interference with the Mueller investigation went up dramatically with Whitaker’s appointment.
Yet, that said, I stand by my conclusion. I am still, if only tentatively, of the belief that the prospects for interference are dimmer than fear and panic and another Trump-busted norm have us imagining. Here are 10 reasons to think that Whitaker may have less capacity to foil Mueller than the current moment—and his formal powers—may suggest.
Read: What Sessions’s resignation means for Robert Mueller
First, Mueller has spread the wealth around. The normal critique of special-counsel investigations is that they hoard jurisdiction, endlessly expand, and become personal roving inquests into their political subjects’ lives. The opposite is the case with Mueller. He has not merely referred to other Justice Department components matters at the margins of his investigation, such as the Michael Cohen situation in New York. He has also let other components handle matters involving core questions of Russian interference in the U.S. elections, such as the Maria Butina and Elena Khusyaynova prosecutions. The result of this strategic step is not just that Mueller is relatively invulnerable to the charge of any kind of power grab or mission creep. It is also that firing him or reining him in only does so much. If Trump imagines these investigations as a cancer on his presidency, they are a cancer that has already metastasized.