For months, the political world has treated Robert S. Mueller III as the arbiter of President Trump’s fate: Hopeful Democrats have theorized about the damage Mr. Mueller’s investigation might inflict. Suspicious Republicans, led by Mr. Trump, have cast him as leading a “witch hunt.”
But this week Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, offered a bracing reminder that Mr. Mueller is unlikely, in the end, to render a decisive judgment on the president.
Mr. Giuliani, citing conversations with the special counsel’s team, said Mr. Mueller intended to follow Justice Department rules that make presidents immune to indictment while in office. For decades, politically appointed lawyers in the executive branch have argued that the stigma and distraction of being indicted would interfere with the president’s ability to carry out his constitutional powers.
And from Watergate to the impeachment of Bill Clinton, special counsels have adhered to that standard, leaving it to Congress — and the voters — to punish presidents or forgive them for alleged wrongdoing.
Mr. Giuliani’s account for now has not been confirmed by Mr. Mueller’s office, and some doubt lingers over it because he repeatedly made claims on behalf of Mr. Trump that later came into question. But if he is right, Mr. Mueller’s investigation does not appear to pose a direct legal threat to Mr. Trump while he is in office.
Instead, any finding of wrongdoing would be referred to Congress, putting it squarely in the realm of politics. That further raises the stakes for control of Congress this November and potentially puts impeachment or the threat of it front and center in the midterm elections. The prospect is unsettling to both parties — unnerving Democratic leaders who have strained to mute impeachment demands from the left and Republicans who worry that new disclosures about Mr. Trump could destabilize his presidency.
Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee — the body where any impeachment proceeding would initiate — said he anticipated that Mr. Mueller would either issue a report relatively early in the summer or wait until after the November elections. While he questioned Mr. Giuliani’s credibility as a courier for the special counsel’s analysis, Mr. Nadler did not attempt to play down the stakes in any Mueller-authored report.
“That report will or will not indicate that the president has committed serious crimes, will or will not show lots of evidence for that,” Mr. Nadler said, stressing