|EVAN VUCCI / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
And then there was one.
Eight months after Special Counsel Robert Mueller commenced his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, he appears to be zeroing in on what will determine not just the success of his labors, but the future of a presidency: An interview with Donald Trump himself.
The last piece in the run-up to this momentously momentous moment may have fallen into place with his seemingly belated interview with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The prima facie evidence that Russia unleashed a cyber plot to sabotage the Hillary Clinton campaign is overwhelming. This makes the devious peregrinations of the Mueller character assassination squad in Congress and its helpmates at Fox News and in the alt-right media so transparently pathetic. There also is no question that the campaign colluded in that plot and that Trump abetted that collusion, but making a legally airtight case has been a challenge from the jump for Mueller and his team.
But the biggest question of all -- did Trump seek to quash the FBI investigation by firing James Comey and enlisting confederates to try to undermine Mueller -- add up to the impeachable crime of obstruction of justice?
It turns out that little ole Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is the key player in all three of these dramas -- interference, collusion and cover-up -- and is hoving into view as Trump's worst nightmare.
There have been five top-tier perps from the outset of the Mueller investigation -- Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and Sessions. Mueller has indicted campaign manager Manafort, cut a plea deal with disgraced national security adviser Flynn, interviewed son-in-law Kushner and conducted extensive interviews about Donald Jr.'s infamous June 2016 meeting with Russians who promised him "dirt" on Clinton although he has not interviewed the president's eldest son.
This may explain why Mueller's several-hour-long interview with Sessions on January 17 was seemingly belated but, I believe, belated quite by design. Having run Manafort, Flynn, Kushner and (indirectly) Trump Jr. through the prosecutorial wringer, Mueller finally could turn to Sessions, who:
As a campaign insider met at least twice with the Russian ambassador to discuss the lifting of sanctions, once with Flynn and Kushner present.
Was present at a campaign national security meeting where also-indicted George Papadopoulos briefed the president about contacts with Russians.
Recused himself from the Comey phase of the Russia investigation on advice of Justice Department counsel because he was so mobbed up.
May be able to corroborate Comey's contemporaneous notes documenting Trump's insistence that he pledge his loyalty and decision to clear the Oval Office so he could talk to Comey one-on-one.
Despite the recusal tasked an aide with getting dirt on Comey because he (read Trump) wanted a negative story on the FBI director in the press each day.
Despite the recusal was party to the charade of Trump's firing of Comey on the specious grounds that he had mishanded the Clinton email server investigation.
Despite the recusal is involved with the counter-investigations of the FBI and renewed Clinton investigations by the character assassination squad.
Was relentlessly bullied by Trump over recusing himself and pressured to resign so the president could name a new attorney general to do his bidding in the scandal.
May have pressured Comey successor Christopher Wray to fire the Comey-era FBI leadership, prompting Wray to threaten to resign.
Stonewalled congressional investigators when asked if Trump had ever asked him to hinder the investigation.
How much trouble is Sessions in? Heaps, as they say in Alabama.
Beyond the numerous times Sessions has perjured himself, which is small beer given the enormity of the scandal and his multiple appearances in it, the attorney general himself is at risk of an obstruction charge. (Richard Nixon AG John Mitchell did prison time for obstruction of justice, perjury and conspiracy.)
Would Mueller "forgive" Sessions for his violations of law, small and large, in the service of obtaining incontrovertible evidence of Trump's oathbreaking?
While the obvious answer would seem to be "you betcha!," Mueller has proven himself to be nothing if not crafty, and there are all those second-tier perps beyond the unindicted Kushner and Donald Jr. -- and of course Sessions -- who he may hang out to dry before turning to the big fish. These include Carter Page, Felix Sater, Roger Stone and K.T. McFarland. And perhaps Donald McGahn, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Michael Cohen, Sam Clovis and KellyAnne Conway, as well. Then there is a wildcard -- Devin Nunes.
Trump has gone from being "100 percent" willing to sit down with Mueller to vacillating to saying on Wednesday that he would agree to an interview with the special prosecutor. Expect him to change his mind yet again.
"I would love to do it, and I would like to do it as soon as possible. I would do it under oath, absolutely.
"Here's the story, just so you understand," Trump said during an impromptu question-and-answer session with reporters. "There's been no collusion whatsoever. There's been no obstruction whatsoever, and I'm looking forward to it."
But hooking this big fish will be an extraordinarily difficult feat. To prove obstruction of justice, Mueller will have to prove that Trump acted with corrupt intent.
This although Trump has lied from the outset about everything having to do with he and his campaign and Russia. In fact, he has never uttered a truthful word about anything to do with the scandal, which would seem to make any kind of contact with Mueller extraordinarily risky. Or, in Stone's words, "a suicide mission."
Taken by surprise, Ty Cobb, the president's lead criminal lawyer, responded to the Wednesday remarks by saying Trump was speaking hurriedly and had only said he intended to meet with the special counsel.
Like I said, expect Trump to change his mind yet again.
(The New York Times reported on Thursday that Trump ordered Mueller to be fired in June 2017 but ultimately backed down after White House counsel McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive. Trump, of course, called the story "fake news.")
We can take heart that the character assassination squad's White House-orchestrated attacks are so crazy, transforming the mundane into the sinister in the long tradition of right-wing deep state conspiracy theories. This means that Trump, Cobb and his other criminal lawyers and West Wing aides may be expecting the worst.
And while a reminder that the first article of impeachment against Nixon was obstruction of justice will set aflutter the hearts of those of us who yearn to hasten the hallelujah end of the awful presidency of an abominable man, 1973 was not 45 years ago. It was light years ago.
The Democrats may wrest control of Congress from the obdurate Republicans, which hypothetically means that impeachment proceedings against Trump could begin in a year. But in the meantime, we're stuck with a congressional majority that has gone soft on protecting Mueller while refusing to do their constitutional duty.
In this era of unthinkables, when Trump violates his oath of office, that's okay with Congress because he can do anything he wants. When he is party to a crime, it's not really a crime. When he commits adultery and pays hush money to yet another woman whom he sexually appropriated, it's none of Congress's business. And even if he fires Mueller, Congress still will support him in covering up a scandal of such historic proportions that Watergate pales in comparison.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.