Washington and America waited with bated breath on Saturday for the next stage in the Trump-Russia drama: the communication to Congress of the “principal conclusions” of special counsel Robert Mueller.
By the early afternoon, it was clear they would have to wait a while longer. Multiple news outlets cited justice department officials saying the attorney general, William Barr, would most likely enlighten Congress on Sunday.
Donald Trump did not offer comment. He was said to be feeling “good”, after playing golf at his course in Florida.
If and when Mueller’s conclusions do become public, they will feed into a frenzy of Republican claims of vindication and Democratic attempts to hold the president to account.
The special counsel was appointed in May 2017, in the aftermath of the firing of FBI director James Comey. He investigated Russian election interference, links between the Trump campaign and Moscow and potential obstruction of justice by the president.
Having indicted three entities and 34 individuals including close advisers to Trump – among them campaign manager Paul Manafort and lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, both sentenced to jail – Mueller handed in his report late on Friday afternoon.
The underlying findings must be provided to Congress and the American peopleNancy Pelosi
A letter announcing its completion was delivered to the Department of Justice (DoJ) and Congress in understated fashion, given the media hoopla it caused. An unassuming woman in a black puffer jacket held a plain manila envelope containing a single sheet of paper as she slipped past camped-out reporters.
Under DoJ rules, the full report does not have to be made public. But attorney general Barr said in a letter to leaders of both parties he would give them “the principal conclusions” possibly as soon as this weekend. On Saturday afternoon, House Democrats held a call to discuss strategy. They emerged to demand transparency.
On Friday, officials briefed the media that no further indictments would be made. That seemed to put Trump family members including Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner in the clear. But Mueller could still provide revelations damaging to the president and his hopes of re-election. A sitting president cannot be indicted but Mueller’s report could include details of wrongdoing, in particular obstruction of justice, that would inform debate over possible impeachment.
The White House reacted with caution, saying it had not seen or been briefed on the report. It issued the same statement again on Saturday. When news of Mueller’s conclusion broke, Trump was already at his private club in Florida. On Saturday his Twitter account, his prime outlet for invective about Mueller’s work, was silent.
According to the pool report, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said the president’s mood was “good”. He declined to say who Trump played golf with and whether the Mueller report was discussed.
Back in Washington, Republicans and supporters of Trump celebrated victory. Party chair Ronna McDaniel tweeted: “Imagine watching MSNBC or CNN for the last two years and learning: 1. Mueller finished his work without any DoJ interference. 2. No American will be charged for colluding with Russia. It wasn’t just Democrats who falsely speculated, many in the media went right along with it.”
Democrats pressed for the release of the full report and discussed ongoing investigations of Trump by House committees they control.
In an email to colleagues released to the press on Saturday, House speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “Even if DoJ chooses not to prosecute additional individuals, the underlying findings must be provided to Congress and the American people.
She wrote: “The attorney general’s offer to provide a summary of the report’s conclusions is insufficient. Congress requires the full report and the underlying documents so that the committees can proceed with their independent work, including oversight and legislating to address any issues the Mueller report may raise.”
It was also reported that Pelosi said she would refuse any offer of a classified briefing.
On Friday night Adam Schiff, chair of the House intelligence panel, told CNN he would subpoena Mueller to appear if necessary. But on Saturday, one senior Democrat said the party should take care.
“We have to be careful to use the resources and the abilities of the House majority in a focused and a responsible way,” Chris Coons, a senator from Delaware, told CNN.
Referring to the protracted and politicised fallout from a deadly attack on a US facility in Libya in September 2012, he added: “I think there were 13 investigations by House Republicans of the Benghazi incident. I myself sat through three hearings in the Senate, and the Republicans in that case demonstrated overreach.”
Coons said: “We need to focus on things that matter to the average American. I support Speaker Pelosi’s view that we ought to be able to explain what we’re going after and why.
“There are lots of issues that we’ve known over the last two years, whether it’s Trump’s taxes and allegations of some impropriety there, or his policy making which in ways is unpredictable or inappropriate … there’s plenty of things which deserve our investigation [but] we should not overdo it.”
Amid intense speculation about what Mueller will do next, a spokesman said he would simply focus on closing down his office.
According to the Politico Playbook email, a gossipy staple of Washington life, the former FBI director was spotted on Friday night “in his regular booth at Salt and Pepper in the Palisades”.
“Over the course of the investigation,” Politico wrote, “locals often spotted Mueller on weekends dining with his wife Ann and others at the American-style restaurant. He likes the scallops. Ann typically orders the salmon on a ceasar salad, according to a source familiar with their visits.”