If Donald Trump has his way, the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) will work with a stripped down, skeleton crew of 17 people for “months, even years.”
That is the immediate effect his enforced shutdown is having on Robert Mueller’s office according to its contingency plan. And, it’s beginning to look like this is the real reason Trump, in concert with the Senate Majority Leader, is refusing all offers to fully fund the government.
The OSC Shutdown Plan, dated 14 December 2018, provides for retention of 17 staff out of a fulltime workforce of 133. One hundred or so OSC personnel plus interns have been released from duty or furloughed. The functions of the handful of “excepted employees” who remain is severely restricted and include protecting property at various field offices, support related to the shutdown, IT support and staff for any litigation deadlines that could not be extended. The Special Counsel is a Presidential appointee and exempt. He will work without benefit of a team and with minimal support staff.
In addition, per the guidelines of OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and the Attorney General (presumably the “Acting” AG although this descriptor is missing), the Special Counsel’s purse strings are tied into knots.
Mueller’s office is prohibited from incurring new debt unless it comes from its prior budget and it is also legal to dip into its FY 2018 appropriation. Of course, since the fiscal year has come to its end, the OSC may have no funds remaining. Money for the shutdown process can be incurred but funds may not be disbursed. Someone manually underlined that prohibition in the contingency plan, indicating an unusual oversight over the Special Counsel’s Office.
So while Trump spurns the House funding bills and talks chaotically of concrete walls and steel beams and a national emergency and 4,000 terrorists, this could be nothing more than a frantic cover to thwart the investigative work of the OSC. This also explains why Mueller sought – and received – an extension of the grand jury hearing evidence on his Russia probe.
Mueller and his team are short-staffed, underfunded and stymied but the grand jury continues unabated. It is this judicial process that issues indictments. Here, Trump holds no sway.
Meanwhile, Robert Mueller has plenty of quiet time to compose his report.