Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III turned in the much anticipated final report of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election on Friday, March 22nd to Attorney General William P. Barr, who will decide how much to tell Congress or the public now.
Mueller, nearly two years after he was appointed to look into possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, delivered a full report of his findings and recommendations to the attorney general, as required by Justice Department regulations.
Under Justice Department regulations, Barr can decide that public interest demands full disclosure, or he can hew to rules that protect privacy for people who are investigated and not charged. Although Barr has the authority, President Trump, his lawyers and congressional Democrats will also join the fight over transparency or privacy.
There’s pressure from Trump’s presidential rivals and from Congress— the House recently voted unanimously for its release. The president himself has said he favors putting it out. And there’s a long history of government documents, from the Pentagon Papers to the Iran/Contra report and the Starr report, making their way into the public domain through authorized release, congressional dump and just plain old leaking.
President Trump’s near-daily campaign to mock and discredit Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt” has lasted longer than his campaign for the White House. The NY Times writes, “His shameful, conspiratorial attacks on the “deep state,” and on the integrity of those who have devoted their lives to upholding the rule of law, have damaged the institutions of federal law enforcement and may have gotten him in even deeper trouble.”
While there has been calls from across the spectrum to have the entire report released, Trump also joined a remarkably bipartisan House of Representatives, along with a vast majority of the American public, in calling for the release of Mueller’s report. “Let people see it,” he said on Wednesday. “There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no nothing.”
For the past two years, Trump has kept repeating his mantra of “no collusion” because it’s true. But even if Mueller has found in the end that Trump did not knowingly conspire with Russia — and it is profoundly to be hoped that the report settles that question, one way or the other — that doesn’t mean this inquiry has been a witch hunt.
The fact remains that throughout the 2016 campaign and transition cycle, Trump and many of his top officials and advisers reportedly had more than 100 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries. These contacts were apparently so unmemorable that many Trump advisers forgot all about them, even when asked under oath.
Mueller has already demonstrated the first way to publicize his findings: by filing charges in federal court. The indictments and pleas have laid out details of what Mueller found involving Russian activity, lies about contacts with Russians and more. The work has led to criminal charges against 34 people, including six former Trump associates and advisers. Mueller’s work has also spawned cases that are being pursued in other jurisdictions.
Several of Trump’s inner circle policy advisors and leaders of his campaign and administration have been charged on multiple counts and are serving or on way to jail sentences. Michael Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser; Rick Gates, the deputy campaign chairman; George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser on the campaign; and Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer, are only some of those charged. Paul Manafort is also accused of lying repeatedly to investigators, but that’s the least of his problems.
Trump’s ties to Russia have been intensely scrutinized. The public and the investigators are aware Trump’s shifting positions in four areas: His relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his stance on Russian election interference, his knowledge about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting and his business interests in Russia.
“Without an indictment against him, Trump is going to hammer home the waste of time, taxpayer money and resources to prove that he was right all along and that he did nothing wrong,” said Ron Bonjean, a veteran Republican strategist who helped shepherd Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch through the Senate confirmation process.
But without seeing the report, it’s hard to know at this time whether the decision not to prosecute amounts to a vindication for Trump, said former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance.
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for example. They, along with Manafort, met on June 9, 2016 at Trump Tower with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and several other Russians. The meeting occurred after Trump Jr. was promised it would yield dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. That meeting was a focal point of Mueller’s investigation, but the fact that no one has faced charges for it, would it suggest, Mueller’s team didn’t think it amounted to a crime?
“If Mueller declined to prosecute because there was insufficient evidence, that’s hardly exoneration,” she said. “And if he didn’t indict Trump only because of the (Justice Department) policy against indicting a sitting president, that’s as far from a clean bill of health as you can get.”
Justice Department policy also holds that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Evidence about Trump could be included in the confidential report to the attorney general but may not be made public.
No matter what Mr. Mueller’s efforts have turned up, the fact that he is now presenting his findings free of presidential interference is a bit of good news for the rule of law in America. Now all Americans deserve the chance to review those findings and reach their own conclusions.