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Reporter details what Trump said about Mueller

In an interview with Reuters, President Trump said that he has stayed out of the Mueller probe, but says he could "run it if I want."

Posted: Aug 21, 2018 2:45 PM
Updated: Aug 21, 2018 2:45 PM

President Donald Trump may no longer control his fate, a plight that helps explain his increasingly volcanic Twitter eruptions.

Trump's persona -- in politics, business and life -- relies on his self-image as the guy who calls the shots, closes deals and forces others to react to the shock moves of a master narrative weaver.

But as a legal web closes around the President, he's in a far weaker position than he would like, a situation especially underlined by the bombshell revelations that White House counsel Donald McGahn has spent 30 hours in interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller.

RELATED: Sources: Trump unsettled by McGahn's 30 hours with the special counsel

Trump reacted to a media frenzy over the McGahn revelations in characteristic fashion: by launching a new Twitter assault on Mueller, taking new shots at his new nemesis John Brennan and diverting attention with newsy comments on the Federal Reserve.

But sources told CNN on Monday that the President was unsettled that he didn't know the full extent of McGahn's testimony and had remained agitated through the weekend, believing the latest developments made him look weak.

McGahn's conversations with Mueller are not the only drama that is leaving Trump waiting on events, rather than dictating them.

Prosecutors and jurors over whom he has little control, the legal exposure of some of his top former associates and the surprising constraints of the most powerful job in the world and those who serve him are leaving him -- for once -- struggling to control his own story.

Trump is on tenterhooks, for instance, as a jury -- now entering its fourth day of deliberations -- weighs tax and fraud charges that could send Paul Manafort, his onetime campaign chairman, to jail for life.

New reports on Sunday that Michael Cohen is close to being charged in his own multimillion-dollar alleged fraud case ignited fresh speculation over whether the President's former personal lawyer could do a deal with prosecutors to testify against his former top client.

Then there is his duel with Mueller himself, who may be the most inscrutable, immovable foe Trump has ever faced.

The President has often raised fears that he could try to have Mueller removed or otherwise interfere with his investigation. But the consequences of derailing a criminal probe into the conduct of his own campaign would cause a crisis of governance in Washington and could so shift the political terrain that even Republicans who have given the President a free pass could be forced to confront him.

Still, on Monday Trump was still mulling the idea of a shock move -- or at least he wanted the special counsel, his own supporters and other Americans to think he might try something unthinkable.

"I've decided to stay out. Now, I don't have to stay out, as you know. I can go in and I could ... do whatever, I could run it if I want," Trump told Reuters in an interview, speaking about the Mueller investigation.

Trying to get back in control

After the McGahn news detonated, Trump -- as he often does when apparently caught off guard -- took pains to create an impression that he was in control.

He tweeted on Sunday that he had engineered McGahn's testimony because he had nothing to hide and rejected commentary that the White House counsel may have turned on him.

Of course, the President could be completely genuine in his comments if he has done nothing wrong. But many legal analysts saw the new details over the length and extent of McGahn's discussions with Mueller as a serious development that could have all sorts of implications down the road.

"I think the White House should be very concerned about it," CNN Legal Analyst Ross Garber said.

"The notion that the White House counsel -- the senior lawyer for the presidency -- was in cooperation with federal investigators and that the President and the chief of staff and others around the President don't know what he said -- that is troubling."

Powerless to do much else, Trump fired off wild tweeting sprees, in deflection mode, accusing Mueller of perpetrating McCarthyism and taking new swipes at Brennan.

"He won't sue!" Trump predicted in a tweet that branded Brennan "the worst CIA Director in our country's history," days after stripping him of his security clearance.

And on Monday the President tweeted: "Disgraced and discredited Bob Mueller and his whole group of Angry Democrat Thugs spent over 30 hours with the White House Councel (sic), only with my approval, for purposes of transparency. Anybody needing that much time when they know there is no Russian Collusion is just someone ... looking for trouble."

But it's becoming clear that Trump's immediate and ultimate destiny cannot be dictated by a tweet storm or by taking vengeance against an enemy like Brennan -- a tried and trusted tactic in a political arsenal that often relies on elevating and then dismembering a foil.

Other than wielding pre-emptive pardons for former aides that could ignite a constitutional showdown or launching purges of top judicial authorities handling various cases that are drawing him into a deeper legal morass, there is not much the President can do to help himself.

That's partly down to Mueller.

For all his increasingly poisonous insults, claims by his lawyer Rudy Giuliani that the special counsel is "panicking" and the assault by his allies in conservative media, Trump has failed to draw the tight-lipped special counsel into the kind of confrontation that favors him.

And for all Giuliani's demands for Mueller to release his "report" and the political jockeying by Trump's legal team over a potential interview of the President by the special counsel, the taciturn investigator appears to hold all the cards.

No one, least of all the President, can be sure exactly what Mueller knows about key issues like the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, the events that led up to the departure of indicted former national security adviser Michael Flynn or obstruction of justice allegations.

And given the tight clamp the special counsel has imposed on his probe, it is anyone's guess whether Mueller will file a report, what it will say and when he might make his conclusions public.

While Trump's team appears to be trying to make the probe a midterm election rallying call for his political base, it's also unclear whether the special counsel will make any new indictments, issue a subpoena for the President's testimony or take any other significant steps before November.

All that is a serious disadvantage for Trump's legal and political team as it games out a possible defense.

Not so powerful after all

As a zealous litigant during his business career, Trump was used to having lawyers ready to jump at his barked commands.

But he's found that things are different for a president, a reality underscored by the McGahn episode.

Because McGahn serves as White House counsel, his primary duty is not limiting Trump's legal liabilities but to the office of the presidency itself, a distinction that has left some experts wondering why the President did not invoke executive privilege to delay or limit McGahn's testimony.

Even then, there might not have been much Trump could have done, given the realities of McGahn's role and the fact that he is not the President's personal attorney.

"He works for the people of the United States, and there is a very limited scope to the confidentiality of his discussions with the President, especially when they involve conduct that might be legitimately the subject of criminal investigation," Paul Rosenzweig, a former senior counsel to Bill Clinton independent counsel Kenneth Starr, told CNN's Brooke Baldwin.

"He simply has that obligation as a servant of the American people who works for us, in effect."

Trump's frustration over the constraints of his role and the obligations of those who serve him has long simmered in his relationship with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump has repeatedly slammed the former Alabama senator for recusing himself from the Russia probe; in other words, protecting not the President but his duty to justice and good governance.

It may not be much longer before Trump feels the same way about McGahn.

The President is also all but powerless in another legal drama that has huge implications.

Like the rest of Washington, he was back in a waiting game as the jury in the Manafort trial in Alexandria, Virginia, slogged through a third day of deliberations Monday. Should it return a guilty verdict, it would hand a first, significant victory to Mueller's team and deal a symbolic blow to Trump, offering new evidence to critics who say he surrounded himself with corrupt characters from his former life.

The President, despite repeated warnings from his cheerleaders on Fox News opinion shows that the Manafort trial has nothing to do with him, has shown by a string of tweets that he is watching the trial closely.

But he cannot do much more than hope that it turns out well for Manafort, though on Friday he did call the trial "very sad" and his former campaign chairman "a very good person" in comments seen by some legal experts as an effort to influence a jury that was not sequestered.

Until the jury returns its verdict, the depth of Cohen's legal woes becomes clear and the inscrutable Mueller makes a significant move, Trump can only wait. And tweet.

He is going to have to get used to not being in control.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 29684

Reported Deaths: 1103
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds238239
DeSoto148616
Madison126734
Jones110449
Neshoba98171
Lauderdale90079
Rankin88812
Forrest85142
Harrison84210
Scott76215
Copiah59216
Jackson58416
Leake57019
Holmes54441
Wayne53513
Lee53218
Oktibbeha53226
Washington5319
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Yazoo4936
Leflore48049
Lowndes47212
Lincoln44334
Lamar4407
Grenada4325
Pike40712
Monroe38830
Lafayette3774
Attala35823
Sunflower3467
Newton3389
Covington3345
Panola3256
Bolivar32114
Adams29318
Simpson2833
Pontotoc2736
Marion27011
Tate2709
Chickasaw26918
Claiborne25610
Jasper2566
Winston2546
Noxubee2538
Pearl River24832
Clay24710
Marshall2173
Smith21611
Clarke20524
Coahoma1916
Union1919
Walthall1804
Kemper17714
Lawrence1701
Yalobusha1677
Carroll16411
Itawamba1348
Humphreys1329
Calhoun1284
Tippah12811
Hancock12613
Webster12610
Montgomery1242
Tallahatchie1224
Jefferson Davis1094
Prentiss1023
Greene1018
Jefferson993
Tunica933
Wilkinson929
Amite892
George783
Tishomingo741
Quitman730
Choctaw724
Perry654
Alcorn631
Stone571
Franklin412
Sharkey340
Benton300
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 41362

Reported Deaths: 983
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson4802152
Montgomery3947103
Mobile3904134
Tuscaloosa218842
Marshall168010
Lee130237
Madison12717
Shelby117623
Morgan10475
Walker90524
Franklin87814
Dallas8689
Elmore86414
Baldwin8289
Etowah70713
DeKalb6945
Butler62328
Chambers61227
Tallapoosa58369
Autauga56012
Russell5190
Unassigned50323
Lauderdale4736
Limestone4660
Lowndes46321
Houston4614
Cullman4354
Pike4175
Colbert3836
Coffee3702
Bullock3679
St. Clair3472
Barbour3452
Covington3437
Escambia3326
Calhoun3225
Hale30621
Marengo30011
Talladega3007
Wilcox2898
Sumter28412
Clarke2726
Dale2680
Jackson2632
Winston2463
Monroe2312
Chilton2282
Blount2261
Pickens2226
Marion21413
Randolph2019
Conecuh1977
Choctaw19512
Bibb1861
Greene1838
Macon1819
Perry1621
Henry1313
Crenshaw1253
Lawrence1050
Washington1047
Cherokee857
Geneva780
Lamar751
Fayette671
Clay622
Coosa581
Cleburne361
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