The White House treated a guilty plea from former national security advisor Michael Flynn last week like the beginning of the end of a special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
But if history is any guide, it’s far from over. And suggestions that it might be help set the stage for Trump’s supporters to argue next year that the investigation is dragging on and needs to be shut down.
After Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, Trump attorney Ty Cobb released a statement that seemed designed to hint that things were wrapping up.
“The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion,” he said.
It was not the first time Cobb has made such a statement, either.
In mid November, Cobb said that he expected the White House’s interviews with Mueller’s team to be done “shortly after Thanksgiving.” Not long afterward, he adjusted that end date to shortly after New Year’s in another interview and he’s reportedly offered staff in the West Wing reassurance that Mueller will finish soon and exonerate the president.
Republican politicians are also playing to Trump’s restlessness.
Key GOP lawmakers have indicated that they think the parallel congressional investigations into Russian meddling should be wrapping up soon, before they turn into fishing expeditions. “I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t be done this year,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the top deputy to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in mid-October.
That may have already led Trump to try to intervene in the congressional investigation, with Republican Sen. Richard Burr acknowledging that the president expressed to him a desire for Congress to wrap up its own investigation “as quickly as possible.” And if Trump thinks Congress can finish soon, then it follows that Mueller can as well.
There’s almost no scenario in which this is a reasonable expectation, however.
The FBI began investigating the Russian government’s attempts to meddle in the election in July of 2016. The Senate intelligence committee began looking into the question as well in January of this year; the Senate judiciary committee, in February; the House intelligence and oversight committees, in March. And Mueller was appointed in May. Depending on how you look at it, the Russia investigation is anywhere from six to 17 months old….