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Mueller Time? Washington braces for next development in Russia probe

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller
Special counsel Robert Mueller leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2017.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — During the last two months of the 2018 midterm campaign, as President Trump talked about the caravan and Brett Kavanaugh and as Democrats focused on pre-existing conditions, special counsel Robert Mueller stayed out of the news. Almost entirely.

Indeed, the last major development in the Russia investigation took place on September 14, when former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manfort pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigative team. (That feels more like two years ago than two months ago, right?)

But count us among those who believe that the silence from the Russia probe is about to end. For starters, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi have been talking about upcoming indictments against them.

What’s more, Trump rage-tweeted at Mueller on Thursday. “The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t... care how many lives the ruin. These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, who worked for Obama for 8 years. They won’t even look at all of the bad acts and crimes on the other side. A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!” (In fact, George W. Bush tapped Mueller to lead the FBI in 2001, and he worked there until 2013 — so barely into Obama’s second term.)

And Mueller was on Trump’s mind when the conservative Daily Caller interviewed the president on Wednesday and asked him about acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

“…[Whitaker] is just somebody that’s very respected. I knew him only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions. And, you know, look, as far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had. It’s something that should have never been brought. It’s an illegal investigation. And you know, it’s very interesting because when you talk about not Senate confirmed, well, Mueller’s not Senate confirmed.”

Hmmmmm. If Mueller is on the president’s mind, you have to wonder if the special counsel is about to make some news.

Major events in the Mueller investigation

By the way, here’s a helpful timeline of some of the major events in the Mueller/Russia probe — the indictments, the guilty pleas and the prison sentences.

Oct. 30, 2017: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates are indicted in Mueller probe; George Papadopoulos pleads guilty

Feb. 16, 2018: Mueller indicts 13 Russians and three companies regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election

April 9, 2018: FBI raids the offices and home of longtime Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen, seizing business records, emails and documents

July 13, 2018: Special counsel Robert Mueller indicts 12 Russian intelligence officials for hacking Democratic organizations and the Clinton campaign

Aug. 21, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty; jury finds Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort guilty on eight counts

Sept. 7, 2018: Papadopoulos is sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI early in inquiry on election interference

Sept. 14, 2018: Manafort pleads guilty, agrees to cooperate with Mueller’s investigative team

Assange to be indicted?

Speaking of indictments, NBC’s Ken Dilanian reports: “A court document filed by mistake has revealed that the Justice Department is preparing to criminally charge Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, months after Special Counsel Robert Mueller cited his organization’s participation in Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. In a bizarre slip first unearthed by a former U.S. intelligence official and posted on Twitter, Assange’s name appears twice in an August court filing by a federal prosecutor in Virginia—an argument to keep sealed an unrelated case involving an accused child sex criminal.”

“The prosecutor wrote that the charges and arrest warrant ‘would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter. At another point in the document, the prosecutor wrote that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

With their win in ME-2, Democrats are now at 35 House pickups — and counting

On Thursday, NBC News declared Democrat Jared Golden the winner of the ME-2 congressional race — after the state’s experiment in ranked-choice voting, per NBC’s Ben Kamisar.

“Golden surged ahead thanks to an overwhelming edge among those who cast their ballots for one of the independent candidates but ranked Golden above [Republican Bruce] Poliquin. The Democrat finished with 50.53 percent of the vote, compared to the Republican's 49.47 percent, the secretary of state's office announced.”

That brings Democrats to 35 House pickups.

While the AP has called CA-45 for the Democrats, NBC News has yet to make that call. But assuming Dems win CA-45 and CA-39, it will be an Orange County sweep for the party. And the only GOP congressman south of Los Angeles will be indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

Recount in Florida nears its conclusion

“Florida concluded the first phase of a tumultuous recount of its midterm election on Thursday, with state officials ordering a manual recount in the hotly contested Senate race between Rick Scott, the Republican governor, and the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson,” the New York Times writes. “Mr. Scott maintained a slim lead over his opponent. Ron DeSantis, a fiery conservative and enthusiastic ally of President Trump, held onto a more substantial lead in the race for governor, avoiding a next round of recounts despite the vow of his Democratic opponent, Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee, to push the authorities to count additional ballots.”

The uncalled Senate races (1)

FL-SEN (Scott leads Nelson by 12,562 votes as the contest heads to a manual recount)

(MS-SEN goes to runoff)

The uncalled GOV races (1)

GA-GOV (GOPer Brian Kemp remains at 50.3 percent)

The uncalled House races (6)

CA-39 (GOPer Young Kim barely leads Dem Gil Cisernos, 50.0 percent to 50.0 percent)

CA-45 (Dem Katie Porter leads GOPer Mimi Walters, 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent)

GA-7 (GOPer Rob Woodall is ahead, 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent)

-- ME-2 (Dem Jared Golden was the winner)

NM-2 (NBC News retracted its earlier call in favor of the Republicans; Dem Xochitl Torres Small is ahead, 51 percent to 49 percent)

NC-9 (GOPer Mark Harris is ahead, 49.4 percent to 48.8 percent)

UT-4 (Dem Ben McAdams is ahead, 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent)

Do Pelosi’s Dem critics have the votes to defeat her?

NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell, Alex Moe and Marianna Sotomayor: “While Pelosi is remains the heavy favorite to be her party's choice when House Democrats hold their leadership elections in less than two weeks, the hurdles for her are higher than many expected… Making her position appear more perilous, many members — far more than are likely to oppose her — are withholding their public support and using this intense campaign period to extract concessions from leadership. After their meeting with Pelosi on Thursday, Congressional Progressive Caucus leaders Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, R-Wash., said they would discuss Pelosi's bid with the members of the CPC.”

Hyde-Smith caught on video appearing to advocate for voter suppression

“A video surfaced Thursday of Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi saying it might be a ‘great idea’ to make it harder for some people to vote, and her campaign quickly responded that she was ‘obviously’ joking,” per NBC’s Allan Smith.

“‘And then they remind me that there's a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who ... maybe we don't want to vote,’ Hyde-Smith is heard saying. ‘Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that's a great idea.’”

“Melissa Scallan, a spokeswoman for Hyde-Smith's campaign, said in a statement shortly after the video was posted that the senator ‘obviously’ was ‘making a joke and clearly the video was selectively edited.’”

Also in Mississippi’s Senate runoff, the NRSC is up with a TV ad hitting Democrat Mike Espy. Don’t national Democrats need to send a message that they’re playing in this contest? At least match the GOP dollar for dollar?