But since Jeff Sessions resigned, he may no longer have that luxury. We spoke to the individuals who know him best to figure out what might come next, and what it all means for Trump.
Somewhere in the mesosphere of Washington, D.C., in which the light marble declines into the cement prairie, you will find the newish and largish building where special counsel Robert Mueller is silently drilling down into Donald Trump's White House. Try to imagine the shhh of a combination lock turning on a secure filing cabinet in that anonymous construction, the ghostly whisper of papers shuffling involving manila folders, the steel roll-down gate ascending so Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen can emerge from the mouth of the underground parking garage, their souls now unburdened of incriminating secrets, having disclosed them at the windowless confessional of the special counsel's conference area at which The Washington Post reports, Mueller, a"sphinx-like presence," does not ask any questions himself, instead sitting at the back and allowing his staff function the cooperating witnesses over, like a card player who lets his confederates do the gambling.
The fuse on Mueller's evaluation was burning away for more than a year. Shortly it will, since the dueling partisans tell this, either burst into another Civil War or fizzle away into nothing at all. In the meantimewe make do with all those pieces of information slip out. From Mueller, we have seen sober legal filings implicating a variety of members of Trump's team. From Trump, we have been subjected to a set of progressively anguished tweets. He's maintained that Mueller's evaluation is"illegal" and a"Witch Hunt." Most recently, he forced the resignation of Jeff Sessions and reassigned supervision of the particular counselor to some loyalist, Matthew Whitaker, setting up what is very likely to be the last stretch of the entire affair.
Those who know him aren't surprised. He's a throwback to a previous regime, even when, the story goes, Ivy League patricians entered authorities for the sake of support, not self-enrichment.
"He's the ideal choice," said Ken Starr, whose memoir, Contempt, looks back on his time investigating Bill Clinton. "I know him from monitoring for a person of absolute integrity."
"He's intelligent, committed, patriotic, and self-effacing," said General James Clapper, the former intelligence chief. "There's no straighter arrow"
Mueller's differences with Trump are voiced in part by their respective styles: barrel cuffs (Mueller) versus French cuffs (Trump), Brooks versus Brioni, lace-ups versus loafers, button-down collars versus spread collars, muted foulard belt-length ties versus shiny red scotch-taped descenders. 1 person is aiming for quiet adherence to established criteria. Another is hoping to stun his victim.
John Miller, who reported to Mueller as an assistant manager at the FBI and is presently a deputy commissioner of the NYPD, described Mueller's apparel as being assembled"so that if you have out of bed at 5:18, knowing that you needed to be at work at 6:18 at the morning, and you could not turn the light as you could not wake anyone else up, it'd never make any difference" It is a type of sartorial"no comment," constructed of gray and blue suits, white shirts, quiet ties.
1 afternoon, Miller showed up for work at Robert Mueller's FBI sporting a pink shirt, French cuffs, and a gold watch. Mueller called him out at the morning meeting.
"What are you really likely to be?"
"Sir, you advised me that we dress like attorneys here."
"Yes. But not like drug attorneys"
An individual can just imagine Mueller's thinking when he introduced to evidence receipts for more than $1 million in clothes bought by Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign director. Among his acquisitions were $1,500 shirts, $1,000 ties, and coats made from the skins of ostriches and pythons. We don't know what Mueller believed about all that because he speaks to us in court, through the mouths of the deputies and their legal filings. The quiet can also be a part of the uniform.
Mueller's silence evokes something that we would all like to think about the American justice system. He embodies the Boy Scout perfect of the FBI: the absolute equity of the lawful good, of power without partisanship. Somehow, despite abuses of the law in the bureau's recent past, this ideal has persisted. Mueller went together with a few of ituntil he didn't. Contrary to their CIA counterparts, FBI agents refrained from torturing captives held at Guantánamo. In 2004, Mueller threatened to resign rather than continue the most sensitive types of surveillance. He didn't close the gap between what the FBI is and what we want it to be, but the album demonstrates that he strove.
As our common narrative bifurcates like a serpent's tongue, we all cling to the hope that someone is keeping track, that objective reality still resides somewhere, in carbon-copy triplicate, locked in a filing cabinet upstairs. We may decide, in the long run, that we don't need to know Robert Mueller; we may even benefit from the fact that there may not be much of Robert Mueller to know. We want him to stay obscure and silent so he will continue to serve as a boat for our ridiculous hopes-that there is a person in government worth considering in, that the times we're experiencing now will somehow be attracted to a sensible end, which the story of what happened will be something that we could all agree on.
"Silence is a weapon," said Ali Soufan, who worked with Mueller on counterterrorism at the FBI after 9/11. "The minute he opens his mouth and says anything concerning this particular investigation, it's going to be interpreted politically, within the partisan circus. And so quiet, alone, is a statement. He understands the importance of the job that's on his shoulders."
It must come as no surprise that Mueller wears the garments of a man without a prove. One of his mum's grandfathers was the self-made president and later chairman of the Lackawanna Railroad. Mueller, who benefits from multiple family trusts, did everything he could to return. He volunteered to go to Vietnam and returned into the United States a decorated battle veteran.
"Those people who came back believed we had a responsibility to live a life span, to live a life that does honor to the heritage of people who gave theirs," said John Kerry, who was Mueller's classmate at St. Paul's, an elite boarding school, and who fought in Vietnam. The 2 boys secured by sports, playing soccer, hockey, and lacrosse together at St. Paul's. "He doesn't brag or boast or showboat. He isn't moved by headlines. He's a Marine.
A lot of those who praised Mueller didn't see themselves within their immunity. They sounded unbiased and overburdened when they told me that they didn't care if Mueller delivered Trump into the clink or completely exonerated him. Irrespective of the results, they would have confidence in the subsequent report, whether or not it was made public, so long as it was Mueller's signature at the bottom. Their view in Mueller isn't a reflection of any belief at the president's remorse so much as a belief in the Constitution, due process, and the enduring power of associations. It represents the ideal of a government of laws, not men, a perfect so embattled now that it appears to hang the fantastic name of one individual alone.
In Vietnam, Mueller survived a very long hilltop firefight in an area called Mutter's Ridge, a struggle that claimed the lives of 13 Marines. He's never told the story of what happened there; many others have had to rebuild it by the words of his comrades and from citations written up by the Marine Corps when he won the Bronze Star. "The minute the shit hit the fan, he was there," one of the Marines under his command told Garrett M. Graff, the author of The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror.
Four months later, Mueller was shot in the uterus during an ambush and received the Purple Heart. After his tour, he considered making a career in the Marines and served as an aide to a general public. He found that he did not like the air away from the front lines, and his wife, Ann, was ambivalent about his earning his career in the army. They proceeded to Charlottesville, and Mueller enrolled in law school at the University of Virginia. He also passed the bar and became a rising star within the Department of Justice. His job on the investigation of Pan Am Flight 103 led to the conviction of a Libyan intelligence officer. He assisted with the prosecution of Manuel Noriega and accepted a deal in which Sammy"the Bull" Gravano would betray his superior, John Gotti, in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Back in 1995, Mueller made an unusual career move and turned into a rank-and-file national prosecutor in the District of Columbia, functioning homicides. "If you handle for a long time, you get a little ivory tower. He'll roll up his sleeves and do the ground-level work"
Everybody who works with him must adjust their program."
In 2001, George W. Bush appointed him to be the sixth director of the FBI. The White House was demanding answers about the way the attackers slipped through and was feverish about preventing another wave, one that never wound up materializing. In numerous hearings, Mueller aggressively defended the bureau from congressmen who wanted to split this up and re-distribute its own responsibilities. Internally, he was a hard-charging reformer. He required agents to rotate between bureaus, awakened underperforming managers with an up-or-out policy, and opened 18 new overseas offices. "I credit him for saving the FBI because we know it now," said Sheriff William D. Gore, who headed the agency's San Diego office throughout the early aughts.
As a pioneer, Mueller uttered the saying of dissenting views and would frequently hit down to the lower ranks to triangulate exactly what he was hearing. Lauren C. Anderson, who was then the FBI's Legal Attaché into the U.S. embassy at Paris, told me about a 2003 meeting she had with Mueller and several cabinet members of Tunisia in Tunis, the country's capital. When the Tunisians appeared less than forthcoming about a group of suspected terrorists, Mueller suddenly stood up. "We're done here," he said. The U.S. ambassador followed. The Tunisians scrambled to hand out the gifts they had brought to the meeting. "The message was obvious," Anderson told me. "You want to cooperate in full before we will provide you some of our time"
Among his colleagues, Mueller was famous for his pursuit, his aloofness from politics, and, maybe above all, his book. John Rizzo, the former CIA general counsel, recalls sitting with Mueller in the bureau's cafeteria following a briefing. At lunch, rather than bantering about professions and family, Mueller held himself apart from the group. "He was polite and affable," Rizzo said. Mueller has spoken about the Marine Corps as a second family, and it's possible that he internalized some of its principles against"fraternization," the evolution of private friendships within a chain of command. "He was not a social man," said Philip Mudd, who functioned under Mueller as deputy manager of the agency's national-security branch. "I wouldn't call him shy-I would phone him private. Really private. When we would visit Iraq and Afghanistan, we wouldn't sit with him at night having beers and cigars and saying'Where did you develop' And so forth." Mueller was respectful, approachable, and likable, Mudd said, but"he wasn't friends with any people."
In one job interview, Mueller is said to have had the offender stand at attention till he ignored him. He imposed the exact same form of discipline on himself. "People would talk about him coming to work at five in the morning," said McCord. "Everybody who works with him must adjust their program." James Comey told Graff something like:"He pushes at such speed that he can burn up people around him."
A number of Mueller's former coworkers preferred his own reticence to Comey's showiness. Even before the contentious press conferences concerning the Clinton investigation throughout the run-up into the 2016 election, Comey eagerly sought out the spotlight, weighing on matters as varied as encryption, the root causes of terrorism, how to be a fantastic listener. Mueller, in contrast, mostly closed himself off from public view. 2 commencement addresses, spaced out over several years, recycle the exact same homiletic calls to adhere to the virtues of patience, support, and humility. "We should all find ways to bring about something bigger than ourselves," he told the graduating class of 2013 at William & Mary. "Most importantly, we must never, ever sacrifice our integrity." Mueller has never said much about his army service beyond remarking"pretty accurate" when viewing a war movie while traveling on a plane with his staff, words that include thirdhand, through Graff's reporting. "He will not write a memoir," Rizzo told me.
As broadly as Mueller has participated in the past 50 years of American history, it could all be remembered as preparation for the terrifying responsibilities of his current job. In May 2017, after Trump fired James Comey, Rod Rosenstein, Trump's deputy attorney general, appointed Mueller as special counselor. It would be Mueller's job to select up Comey's most important ongoing investigation and supply Rosenstein with the most authoritative, official reply to the question that has been dogging the country and casting a shadow over the legitimacy of its preferred leadership: What exactly was happening between Donald Trump and Russia in the months before the 2016 election? In his correspondence Mueller, Rosenstein given him a extensive hunting license. Besides the capacity to indict, subpoena, and haul witnesses before a grand jury, Mueller could probe beyond Russia to"associated matters. . .that appeared or may appear directly from the investigation" He could prosecute anybody who sought to thwart him during"perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses."
Rosenstein's letter authorizes Mueller to keep digging at Trump till he finds the root ball at the middle of the president tangled corruptions or suits himself that no thing exists. It is tough to check out the document and not see Rosenstein attempting to compensate for that which happened eight days before, when he wrote a memo to support Trump's decision to flame Comey. Rosenstein was reportedly embarrassed and angered by the perception that he had been utilized by the White House to eradicate Comey. At one point he's believed to have talked about using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. (Rosenstein has denied that.) His choice of Mueller to be specific counsel is a hilariously frightening individual for Trump, or for anybody. "I wouldn't want him , let's put it that way," Sheriff Gore said.
This is the way power is supposed to act: You do the right thing, for the right reason, in the right way, and you keep your mouth shut about it. It is clear that Mueller could not care less-if he's even aware-about his presence in this Men of the Year issue, or about any other sort of publicity, for this matter. "One of the ways he's maintained esteem is by doing his job and allowing his work speak for itself," Mark Warner, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told me. "When you are taking on the task of investigating the possibility that the president of america colluded with a foreign country, the nature of this investigation is historic. It makes Watergate look small."
"The walls seem to be closing in on some of the essential figures."
Rizzo said he doubts Mueller will also hold a press conference when his investigation is complete. Nevertheless, while his final report is done-and many resources have this on the immediate horizon, now the elections are past-the particular counsel's silence will probably be broken. The question then is if the mythical impartiality by which Mueller is believed to have conducted his investigation will float beneath the mortal partisan whirlpool of the modern news cycle or plummet into the bottom. At the moment, Mueller will no more be able to please everyone, and the more competitive partisans may search for ways to rip him down. An individual can take comfort in the notion that Mueller isn't worrying too much about those political matters, which are beyond his control and, at least in his own perspective, temporary. "He said to me once, whatever we set out, make certain it's the truth," Miller said. "No spin, no bleach, no shading. Even if we were going to get beat up, we had been a great agency. We did work. And that bad story was in the newspapers."
The report, regardless of what it states, will be thorough. Mueller's team has interviewed dozens of members of Trump's cabinet and senior staff, together with the author of the notorious pee-tape dossier. He's spent with Trump's White House counselor, Don McGahn, whose collaboration was reportedly"extensive," and turned across the loyalties of Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen. He's more than one million pages of documents offered by the Trump campaign. He's asked records from Cambridge Analytica and Facebook and subpoenaed one of Trump's biggest creditors, Deutsche Bank. "My gut feeling is that where the rubber will meet the street is the financial part of this," Gore told me. "These allegations about people in Russia and investments moving back and forth-when prosecutors put that all together, it's very likely to be the last nail in the coffin."
"The walls seem to be closing in on some of the key figures," said Senator Warner. "I hope he concludes when he could."
What should be apparent to anyone after the Russia investigation is that there isalso, in addition to everything known about Trump already, a few X variable, something that is known to members of the intelligence community however has not yet been revealed to the general public. John Brennan, the former CIA director, has referred to X repeatedly, tweeting about what might happen when"the full scope" of Trump's wrongdoing"becomes understood" and hinting at times that at 2016 he owned information about contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians, which he passed to the FBI. As far as those on the exterior can tell, X originated in intelligence gathered by Britain and maybe some other foreign nations. Senator Warner, who advised me he understands"Mueller a little but not well," reportedly joked at a supper in June that"if you believe you've seen crazy things so far, buckle up" By the end of Mueller's evaluation, the fight will commence in Congress on the size and importance of X and if to terminate this presidency early or let it hobble its way into the finish line. All of Mueller can do is unearth the X and bring it into light. He can equip the country with facts for these coming battles. However he can't fight them .
Mattathias Schwartz's final post for GQ,"The Un-Quiet American," appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 Issue.