Can President Trump breathe easy? The Washington Post reported Tuesday night that Trump is a subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but not a target of the investigation.
There’s something there for both sides—Trump supporters can argue that the president isn’t a target, and his critics can point out that the president remains under investigation. Trump is not in the clear, but neither are criminal charges necessarily imminent. Trump might never become a target of the investigation, or he could change from subject to target at any time.
“It's not comforting to be a ‘subject’ of an investigation. Most white-collar criminal defendants started out as subjects of a grand jury investigation,” said Bruce Green, a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at Fordham. “Calling President Trump a ‘subject’ rather than a mere ‘witness’ generally means that his conduct is still being investigated, he is still suspected of having acted criminally, but no conclusion has yet been reached that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
A subject of an investigation is usually not named a target until charges are imminent. The fact that Trump remains the subject of a criminal investigation, months after witnesses have been interviewed, documents turned over, and charges filed, could mean that Mueller thinks he’s guilty, even if he cannot yet prove it. Or it could mean that Mueller thinks Trump is innocent, and all he needs is to do is interview him to make sure.