The special counsel, Robert Mueller III, sent a confidential report Friday to U.S. Attorney General William Barr on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, capping a nearly two-year probe that has cast a cloud over the Trump administration and secured the convictions of prominent figures on the president’s campaign and in his orbit.
Barr now must decide how much, if anything, to make publicly available. The attorney general can expect enormous public pressure from congressional Democrats and other advocates to release the report in full.
“Let it come out—let people see it,” President Donald Trump said Wednesday at the White House.
Barr signaled during his Senate confirmation he would submit his own summary of Mueller’s findings to Congress, rather than the special counsel office’s original report, a move that would spark calls challenging the secrecy and likely spill into court. It is unclear how long Barr will take to submit his report to Congress.
Barr said in a letter to congressional leaders: “The special counsel has submitted to me today a ‘confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions’ he has reached.” He added: “I am reviewing the report and anticipate that I may be in a position to advise you of the special counsel’s principal conclusions as soon as this weekend.”
Read Barr’s memo to Congress:
It was not immediately clear full scope of the report Mueller handed over to Barr. Barr said he would consult with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about what information from the report can be released to Congress and the public “consistent with the law, including the special counsel regulations, and the department’s long-standing practices and policies.”
“A concise Mueller report might act as a ‘road map’ to investigation for the Democratic House of Representatives—and it might also lead to further criminal investigation by other prosecutors,” Hogan Lovells partner Neal Katyal wrote in February in a piece at The New York Times. “A short Mueller report would mark the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.”
Katyal should know: He helped draft the special counsel regulations in 1999.
The scope of Mueller’s report might include a recommendation of whether prosecutors should indict, or declined to indict, Trump himself. Justice Department policy suggests a sitting president cannot be indicted, although legal scholars are disputing whether a department legal memo saying as much carries weight.
Mueller’s investigation “has brought us to face similar questions of institutional integrity and transparency for the American public,” J.T. Smith II, formerly an executive assistant to Nixon-era Attorney General Elliot Richardson, said in a recent op-ed. “If Mr. Barr determines that Mr. Mueller’s findings compel legal action, he should reconsider the policy against indictment of a sitting president.”
Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, lawyers representing Trump, said in a statement Friday: “We’re pleased that the Office of Special Counsel has delivered its report to the attorney general pursuant to the regulations. Attorney General Barr will determine the appropriate next steps.”
What follows are three primary questions:
>> Will Barr release anything publicly from the report? We don’t know, of course, but we do know what he has said about transparency. “For that reason, my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law. I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political, or other improper interests influence my decision,” Barr said in prepared remarks for senators during his January confirmation hearing.
Barr did not commit to fully disclosing Mueller’s final report to Congress or the public. But he told Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, that he plans to “make as much information available as I can consistent with the rules and regulations.”
>> Will the U.S. House move to subpoena Mueller’s report, or even call the special counsel? There’s some buzz about that possibility. “Well, we will obviously subpoena the report. We will bring Bob Mueller in to testify before Congress. We will take it to court if necessary,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-California, said last month on the ABC News program “This Week.” “And in the end, I think the [Justice] Department understands they’re going to have to make this public. I think Barr will ultimately understand that, as well.” New analysis from the Congressional Research Service said any move by a House committee to try to acquire the Mueller report “may face obstacles related to executive privilege and the rule of grand jury secrecy.” The U.S. House last week voted to urge the U.S. Justice Department to release Mueller’s report.
>> What happens now to Mueller’s prosecution team? Several members of the team have returned, or could return to their posts within the U.S. Justice Department.
One former member of the Mueller team, Brandon Van Grack, will now lead a specialized unit in the national security division focused on U.S. lobbying for foreign entities, The New York Times reported. Van Grack, a member of the prosecution team that won the conviction of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, had already left the Mueller squad and returned to the national security division.
Several cases brought by the Mueller team will, of course, continue past the close of the probe. That’s because Mueller teamed up with assistant U.S. attorneys in Washington, including Michael Marando and Jonathan Kravis, both of whom are on the team prosecuting Trump confidante Roger Stone.
In a separate case against Russians accused of using online aliases to sow discord in the U.S. electorate, the prosecution team includes assistant U.S. attorneys Heather Alpino, Deborah Curtis and Jason McCullough, all members of the national security division at Main Justice.
Mueller, a former Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner, has given no hints about whether he’ll return to his former firm. The special counsel’s office includes three other former Wilmer lawyers: Jeannie Rhee, James Quarles and Aaron Zebley.
Greg Andres, the lead prosecutor in the Manafort case, was previously a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell.
NPR reported recently that a lead member of Mueller’s team, Andrew Weissmann, was preparing to step down. Weissmann jumped from a post at Main Justice to join Mueller’s team. Weissmann, a former FBI general counsel and Jenner & Block partner, formerly taught at New York University School of Law.
Mike Scarcella and Ellis Kim contributed reporting from Washington.