How Will the Trump/Russia Probe End? Here Are the Most Likely Scenarios

Special counsel Robert Mueller continues to investigate the possibility of collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign. While new information about it arises almost every day, many of the details still remain shrouded in mystery. The investigation could end in a number of ways. Here are the most likely scenarios for what Trump will do, from what we know so far.

1. Mueller could bring criminal charges against Trump

Mueller in a black suit screaming into a microphone.

The special prosecutor could take down Trump, but will he? | Alex Wong/Getty Images

While the special counsel could bring legal charges, many legal scholars doubt he will succeed. No legal precedent exists for it. In 2000 after the Clinton v. Jones sexual harassment lawsuit in 1997, an opinion concluded that the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president “would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.” An assistant attorney general wrote the memo almost two years after Clinton’s impeachment. That said, charges could come down after Trump leaves office.

paul manafort in a dark suit and blue tie leaves his indictment

Former campaign manager Paul Manafort already fell to Mueller. Will his boss? | Win McNamee/Getty Images

Those hoping Mueller will prosecute Trump live in a fantasy world, according to Paul Rosenzweig, a former deputy of Kenneth Starr who wrote the memo. “If we know anything about Mueller, we think we know that he follows the rules—all of them,” Rosenzweig wrote in The Atlantic. “Mueller will not indict Trump for obstruction of justice or for any crime. Period. Full stop. End of story. Speculations to the contrary are just fantasy.”

Next: But here’s what happens if that fantasy comes true.

2. Trump could get indicted for collusion

Donald Trump denies the allegations, of course.

Several paths to indictment exist for Trump. | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Andrew Wright, who served as an associate counsel to former President Barack Obama, told Newsweek earlier this year that constitutional law allowing criminal charges after a president’s removal enjoys wide interpretation. Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, also argued that the president “cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer” under the Constitution.

Bill Clinton addresses Lewinsky Scandal

The last time the issue came up was when Clinton got impeached. | Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images

In addition, The New York Times obtained a memo from Starr’s independent counsel investigation into Clinton. Experts consider the report the most thorough government-commissioned analysis of such a situation. It further goes against the idea that presidents cannot be prosecuted while they serve. “It is proper, constitutional, and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of, and are contrary to, the president’s official duties,” the Starr memo stated.

Next: The charges could go higher than Mueller, some experts say.

3. Rosenstein could recommend Congress impeach him

a joint session of congress hears the state of the union address

Congress holds the power to start impeachment proceedings against Trump. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Once Mueller decides whether Trump actually committed any crimes, he will, according to Department of Justice regulations, file a report on his findings with the attorney general. Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions remains recused from the investigation, that falls to the deputy, Rod Rosenstein. He then gets the enviable task of deciding whether that report goes public and whether to send it to Congress.

rod rosenstein looks over a stack of papers in profile

Rosenstein holds a lot of power in this situation. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Here, it gets complicated. DOJ regulations do not specify whether Rosenstein must release those reports. Consequently, it remains almost entirely up to him. But if he does release them to Congress, that could — in theory — set off impeachment proceedings. A lot would have to fall into place for that to happen. That said, it does not rest entirely out of the question.

Next: The president may very well fear this issue more than collusion.

4. Trump could also face money-laundering charges

trump in tower elevator

The president and his family could have money management issues. | Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images

As Rosenzweig writes in The Atlantic, Trump’s finances have long come under scrutiny. Some say they do not look as healthy as the president continually asserts. And we all remember the tax return problem. As Rosenzweig points out, investigations remain open into both Trump’s own financial entanglements and those of his family. Tellingly, some of Mueller’s special counsel hires specialize in money-laundering.

President-Elect Donald Trump Holds Meetings At Trump Tower

Jared Kushner sits in Mike Pence’s car outside of Trump Tower. He and the rest of Trump’s close family could come under intense scrutiny. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“I don’t think [Mueller] would have brought them onto his team if that wasn’t going to be an area that would be focused on,” former federal prosecutor Kenneth McCallion told NPR. He would know, since he helped investigate ties between Trump and the New York Mafia in the 1980s. In addition, several reports say Mueller’s team issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank for records pertaining to Trump and his associates. Deutsche Bank lent money to Trump after a string of bankruptcies, and it also stands accused of laundering Russian money by the New York State Department of Financial Services. While White House attorneys deny the subpoenas, the bank has not commented either way. That looks bad for Trump.

Next: Of course, Trump could always go after this high-level official.

5. The president could even fire Rosenstein

rod rosenstein in front of a department of justice seal

If Trump wants to, he can technically get rid of Rosenstein. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The deputy attorney general’s inclusion in the now-infamous Nunes memo could prove problematic. “Republicans,” The New York Times speculates, “could potentially use Mr. Rosenstein’s decision to approve the renewal to suggest that he failed to properly vet a highly sensitive application for a warrant to spy on Mr. [Carter] Page.” That means the memo implies Rosenstein looks, at best, incompetent and, at worst, corrupt.

a phone with the text of the nunes memo on it

The now-infamous Nunes Memo could give Trump reason to clean house. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Theoretically, this provides some cause for Trump to dismiss the deputy attorney general. Since Trump cannot fire Mueller without Rosenstein’s approval, cause to fire Rosenstein could give Trump a serious advantage. In December, he said he could find no “good cause” to fire Mueller. But instead, the president could decide to get rid of Rosenstein based on the memo.

Next: That would set off an interesting chain of events.

6. He could also get rid of Mueller

Robert Mueller standing in front of a statue of lady justice and the seal of the Department of Justice.

If Trump wants to, he could get rid of Mueller, but not without consequences. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

According to the Washington Post, Trump told his close advisers that the memo could give him cause to force Rosenstein to resign. If he does that, he can either restrain Mueller by hiring someone more sympathetic to his administration as Mueller’s boss. Experts write that the deputy attorney general could essentially cripple the investigation by rejecting his requests to investigate more people, obtain new evidence, or pursue additional charges. Trump’s new appointee could just fire Mueller outright.

FBI seal on a Apple iPhone

The FBI could come into the president’s crosshairs. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Nunes memo’s release may have caused a ripple effect, which we will not see play out for some time. Rosenstein and Mueller might stand as just the first blocks to fall. “The release of the memo, and the fabrication of a set of ideas around the memo, empowers Trump to go after the FBI,” Ryan Goodman, a former Defense Department special counsel and current editor of Just Security, told Vox. “The ultimate goal is undermining the Mueller investigation. There doesn’t seem to be another reason for the president to be so obsessed with Rod Rosenstein and to be gunning for him.”

Next: Here’s what could happen next.

7. Trump could fill the FBI with sympathizers

James Comey testifying in a dark suit and a red tie

James Comey already went down because of “this Russia thing.” Will Trump continue cleaning out the FBI? | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

If Trump fills Rosenstein and Mueller’s seats with those who agree with his cause, that essentially dismantles the system of checks and balances put on the executive branch. “Trump is shockingly overt about believing that the problem here is that the FBI is staffed by loyalists to the wrong person,” said Julian Sanchez, a Cato Institute expert on surveillance. “He does, in fact, seem to think that the job of the DOJ, and the FBI, and the rest of the intelligence community is to protect the president and follow his orders — including going after his political enemies based on stuff he saw on Fox News, if that’s what he wants to do.”

Donald Trump making a slicing motion at Republican debate

If Trump wants to bring down the hatchet, it looks bad for our democracy. | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The Senate could stop this from happening, however. Senate Republicans also have to confirm Trump appointees to the Justice Department, and they hold the power to block Trump’s picks, if he does decide to clean house at the DOJ or the FBI. If they let them through, it carries some pretty scary implications for our political future. “I shudder to think what the [2020] election looks like when you’ve got a guy who says, ‘I saw Fox & Friends this morning and my opponent is a crook’ … except now you’ve got an FBI and a DOJ that say, ‘Yes, sir,’” Sanchez noted.

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