“Answering those questions was a nightmare,” he told me. “It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days.”
There are numerous other reasons no response plan has been produced, White House sources said, including the futility of crafting a strategy that Trump will likely ignore anyway. There have also been few frank conversations within the White House about the potential costs of Mueller’s findings, which could include impeachment of the president or the incrimination of his inner circle. Those close to Trump have either doubled down on the “witch hunt” narrative, they said—refusing to entertain the possibility of wrongdoing—or decided to focus on other issues entirely. Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer has even taken to treating the probe like a game: On Wednesday he tweeted a (quickly deleted) link where followers could place bets on “how many tweets containing #mueller” the president will send “before the investigation is up.”
Attempting to plan “would mean you would have to have an honest conversation about what might be coming,” a former senior White House official, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told me.
Read: What exactly is Rudy Giuliani’s role?
The lack of planning for potential outcomes of one of the highest-stakes investigations of the past two years illuminates many of the key operating principles of this White House—a follow-the-leader approach, a frequent resort to denial, and a staff constantly in flux. Many of those tactics have allowed Trump to maintain favor with his base, but Mueller’s report will represent the biggest test yet of how they fare against legal, rather than political, challenges. And that test was likely sharpened on Tuesday night, when Mueller revealed in a court filing that former National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn had cooperated extensively with his investigation.
It’s not that White House officials are altogether unwilling to confront the topic. But many current and former White House staffers I spoke to stressed the problem that has plagued them since the beginning of Trump’s presidency: making plans and sticking to them when the “communicator in chief” will, inevitably, prefer his own approach.
“We would always put together plans with the knowledge that he wouldn’t use them or they’d go off the rails,” one recently departed official told me. “And at this point, with Mueller, they’ve decided they’re not even going to do that.”
“It’s like, ‘Jesus, take the wheel,’” the source added, “but scarier.”
Nevertheless, the thinking is that it’s “safer to follow POTUS’s lead,” the former senior official said. This has allowed staffers to “focus on other pressing matters,” the official allowed, “but leaves you naked when it comes to the final scene of this play.”
Giuliani initially pushed back on the prediction that Trump would take center stage after the report drops. “I don’t think following his lead is the right thing. He’s the client,” he told me. “The more controlled a person is, the more intelligent they are, the more they can make the decision. But he’s just like every other client. He’s not more … you know, controlled than any other client. In fact, he’s a little less.”