When Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigation is complete, he will send a report to Attorney General William Barr. What happens after that? USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election might be nearing an end, but the political and legal battle over his work has barely begun.
Lawmakers from both parties plan to press for access not just to the report that is likely to mark the end of Mueller’s work but also to the evidence he gathered during an investigation that spanned nearly two years and pried deeply into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and administration. The demands would almost certainly set up a battle between Congress and the Justice Department.
Mueller has indicted 34 people, including Russian intelligence operatives and some of Trump’s closest aides and advisers. In doing so, he revealed a wealth of details about a sophisticated Russian effort to influence the 2016 election and about a campaign eager to reap the benefits of that activity. What he might add in a final report remains uncertain.
Lawmakers – particularly newly powerful House Democrats, who have launched a barrage of investigations into the president and made no secret of the fact that they could be the forerunners of an impeachment inquiry – are exploring ways to force the administration to turn over conclusions and evidence it might prefer to keep secret.
“We expect the full report,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “If we don’t get it, we’ll do what we have to do to get it. If that means subpoenaing it, we’ll subpoena it.”
The first move belongs to Mueller’s boss, Attorney General William Barr.
He must decide how much of Mueller’s final report will become public. Justice Department rules say that the special counsel must give Barr a confidential report when he is done, explaining why he charged some people and not others. Barr said he will determine how much of Mueller’s work Congress sees.
Any decision seems certain to provoke a fight.
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he expects Democrats will maneuver to get the report and other evidence Mueller collected, even though he thinks it will exonerate Trump.
“This is going to be a legal battle,” Collins said.
House committees have begun requesting documents from the White House as part of broad inquiries into Trump and his namesake business. Lawmakers have taken testimony from Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and opened a corruption investigation by sending document requests to 81 people and organizations associated with the president, including the White House, his private business and his children.
Trump has dismissed the investigations as “presidential harassment.”
House Democrats intend to intensify and expand their investigations, building on what they expect to be the relatively narrow foundation of the Mueller report about Russian election interference into a broader search for public corruption, obstruction of justice and foreign influence on U.S. policy.
“We’ll certainly be bringing in any number of witnesses, some of them new, others who have been before the committee before,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who heads the House Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the election, efforts by foreign powers to influence Trump and his financial entanglements. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Republicans, who bristle at House investigations they see as fishing for reasons to impeach the president, have nonetheless embraced the idea of obtaining Mueller’s conclusions. After two years of anticipation, Collins said he expects a report that will reveal no wrongdoing by Trump.
“All of a sudden, Christmas came and no present,” Collins said.
The attorney general is gatekeeper
After Mueller submits his report, Barr must decide how much he can reveal to Congress or the public.
“I also believe it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel’s work,” Barr told senators at his confirmation hearing in January. “My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law.”
Barr said he would withhold classified information, grand jury information and information subject to executive privilege. How extensively those would apply to Mueller’s work remains to be seen, but Barr told lawmakers he would “not tolerate an effort to withhold such information for any improper purpose, such as to cover up wrongdoing.”
Barr said the Justice Department should not release “derogatory” information about people who are not charged with crimes. Its Office of Legal Counsel has taken the position that a sitting president cannot be charged. Democrats worried that the combination of those policies would justify withholding information about Trump. Barr said he wouldn’t let political interests influence his judgment.
Bruce Udolf, a former federal prosecutor and associate independent counsel during the Whitewater investigation, said he was confident Barr would release what he could.
“I would be very surprised if Barr didn’t publish a good portion of whatever is prepared by Mueller,” said Udolf, who is in private practice in Florida. “To the extent that he does not, I would think there would be a good reason.”
One reason is…