The clearest signs yet that the monastic special counsel Robert Mueller may be about to file his final report with Attorney General William Barr have sent Beltway insiders to a state of nervous alert.
So White House lawyers, Trump campaign flacks, key congressional offices and newsrooms are left counting the hours, poised to shape the end game of the most important investigation into a President’s behavior in at least 20 years.
For everyone involved, it’s like waiting for a jury in a big trial to reach its verdict: long stretches of edgy idleness are laced with the prospect of frenetic action and hugely consequential outcomes that could unfold at a moment’s notice.
This moment of political purgatory comes after a turbulent two years packed with revelations about covert contacts between associates of President Donald Trump and Russia, the sight of Trump acolytes being sent to jail after sensational court dramas and a ferocious campaign by the President to discredit Mueller.
When he finally files his report, the special counsel will open a new chapter in the Russia story — even though it could take weeks for most Americans to learn what he learned during his investigation.
Depending on his conclusions, he could either lift the cloud of suspicion over alleged links to Russia that has darkened every day of the Trump administration.
Or if he finds serious wrongdoing, Mueller could trigger a constitutional showdown that puts a presidency in peril.
Trump, in an interview with Fox Business Network that was released Friday morning, spoke ominously about the aftermath of Mueller’s report, saying “people will not stand for it” if the report casts him in a bad light.
Just after sunrise Thursday, Mueller was met by camera flashes as he steered his car into the underground garage of the building where he has based his nearly two-year investigation into Russia’s election meddling scheme.
A suddenly swelled media pack, huddling with their cameras under umbrellas in a chilly late March deluge, waited outside all day, vainly on guard for activity that could give some indication Mueller’s time was up.
Tension simmered at the White House as the President’s lawyers tested different scenarios that could ensue after Mueller files his report.
Like everyone else in Washington, Trump’s team was in the dark, thanks to the leak-proof cone of silence that has enveloped Mueller, who has barely uttered a public word since he took his commission two years ago.
“We’re tea leaf reading like everyone else,” one White House official said.
Time hung heavy at the Justice Department. Reporters set up text chains to ensure that they didn’t miss any breaking news on lunch or bathroom breaks.
ABC reporter Mike Levine wrote on Twitter that he encountered Barr in the building and got a “death stare” when he asked him, “Is today the day?”