The special counsel’s investigation of President Trump and his associates seems to be exploding into the news.
There’s a steady flow of huge headlines that immediately echo across cable news, across cyberspace, and across social media.
Make no mistake, a president being investigated by an independent prosecutor is extraordinary. But the individual developments may not be.
Again, these stories are legitimate, accurate and fair game. But is there some hype behind the headlines?
Take the Washington Post report the other day that Robert Mueller is investigating Jared Kushner’s business dealings. It sounds like a big expansion of the probe.
But the paper had previously reported that investigators planned to look at Kushner, a top White House official and the president‘s son-in-law. Since he’s a former real estate developer and had contacts with the Russian ambassador and a Moscow banker, how would any probe not look at any financial dealings he may have had with Russia?
In other words, this is simply Mueller doing his job.
Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said it “would be standard practice for the special counsel to examine financial records to look for anything related to Russia,” and that’s right. She said Kushner will fully cooperate. So the real question is whether Mueller will find anything.
The other news here is that sources are leaking information from a criminal investigation, which is illegal, but the media are far less interested in that.
Or take the earlier Post story that Trump is under investigation for possible obstruction of justice. That, of course, was a game changer. Trump had not been under investigation, as James Comey testified, but Comey’s firing triggered a series of events now being examined by Mueller.
The details of the Post piece are that Mueller has arranged interviews with Dan Coats, the national intelligence director, and Mike Rogers, head of the NSA. They were previously reported to have told associates that Trump asked them to intervene with Comey’s FBI probe, and that they declined.
Of course Mueller was going to look into that. He would be shirking his responsibilities if he didn’t talk to the two men.
And then there are developments like Mike Pence hiring a lawyer. This was treated as big breaking news. But what official wouldn’t retain an attorney ahead of an interview with FBI investigators? That is, as Pence says, “very routine.” The vice president was always going to be interviewed because he was the one who Mike Flynn lied to about his Russia contacts before being fired.
When normal things happen in an investigation–officials interviewed, witnesses hiring lawyers, financial records scrutinized–they should be reported.
But the sometimes breathless tone, especially among some picking up the newspaper scoops, suggests that the investigation is dramatically widening and prosecutors moving closer to their prey.
That really isn’t happening, at least not yet. And if it does, there will be no need for the media to crank up the volume.