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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Evidence is mounting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is moving toward further indictments — and perhaps some big ones, with an end-of-year flurry of activity, Garrett M. Graff reports for Axios.

The big picture: Graff — one of the most astute Mueller-watchers, and author of a book focused on his dozen years as FBI director — sees six signs that a Mueller climax may be accelerating.

  1. Mueller is tightening the screws on Jerome Corsi, a friend of former Trump adviser Roger Stone. A plea deal — or charges — appear imminent.
  2. Ecuador may be moving toward turning over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The government removed its Assange-backing U.K. ambassador last week, and has prohibited his lawyers from meeting with him. The report yesterday by The Guardian that Assange and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort may have met repeatedly — denied by Manafort and Assange — raises the stakes dramatically.
  3. Russian spy and NRA superfan Maria Butina is reported to be in talks for a plea deal.
  4. A number of Mueller’s prosecutors were hard at work on Veterans Day —when Michael Cohen took the train to Washington to talk to Mueller's team.
  5. ABC News reported an "unusually high" number — nearly three dozen, in fact — of sealed indictments filed over the course of the year in D.C. Fourteen of those have been added since August, a period when Mueller’s investigation was publicly quiet.
  6. And this big one: President Trump last week finally turned in long-awaited written answers to Mueller’s investigators. His story — or at least a version of it — is now locked in. By doing so, Trump tacitly acknowledged Mueller's authority, despite tweeting last night: "The Mueller Witch Hunt is a total disgrace."

Since Mueller laid low while waiting for Trump’s responses, the special counsel may have wanted to avoid taking any action that might spook the president.

  • Mueller appears to have been thinking this through carefully — not rocking the boat while he waited out Trump. His team delayed a mid-November hearing, where prosecutors were supposed to discuss Paul Manafort’s "lack of cooperation." They made that accusation Monday, after Trump’s answers were in hand.

So the timeline looks like it's speeding up, after four months of near-silence from Mueller. Manafort's lack of cooperation might be the opening needed to file Mueller's most explosive findings in public shortly.

  • That could include new information about that mysterious 2016 Trump Tower meeting, or details about a possible Assange connection.
  • Based on Monday's court filing, Mueller apparently hopes to quickly issue a "report" on Manafort’s activities to the court, one that — if it’s anything like other documents Mueller has filed thus far — will be more informed, more knowledgeable, and more detailed than we can imagine.

Be smart: We've been surprised at every turn by how much Mueller knows.Go deeper:

Go deeper

Symone Sanders leaving VP's office

Vice President Kamala Harris and her press secretary Symone Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The VP has faced an onslaught of criticism in her first year centered on her leadership and staff, adding to the suggestion, she’s not the Democratic Party’s preferred nominee for 2024.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 2 hours ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.