(Bloomberg) -- Attorney General William Barr is reviewing the long-awaited report submitted by Robert Mueller and determining how to explain the special counsel’s principal findings to Congress as early as Sunday, a Justice Department official said.
Mueller submitted the still-secret document Friday evening, capping an investigation into whether President Donald Trump or those around him conspired in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election that’s riveted Washington and cast a cloud over Trump and his administration for almost two years.
Barr, 68, who was sworn in as Trump’s second attorney general about five weeks ago, is working with Deputy General Rod Rosenstein to figure out how to present Mueller’s conclusions, the official said. Rosenstein appointed Mueller, a former FBI director, as special counsel in May 2017.
Trump, who’s repeatedly called Mueller’s 22-month investigation a “witch hunt,” hasn’t commented publicly. He played golf on Saturday at one of his Florida courses before returning to the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.
The president is in a good mood because he doesn’t see any new legal threats emerging from the Mueller probe, and doesn’t believe federal prosecutors in New York will be able to open up any new fronts in their investigation, said two people familiar with the matter. Trump has also expressed satisfaction with how Barr has handled the probe’s ending so far, even joking about what it would have been like if Jeff Sessions -- whom he fired in November -- still ran the Justice Department, the people said.
“The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a tweet. “The White House has not received or been briefed on the Special Counsel’s report.”
Delivery of the report is only the beginning of a struggle between Barr, lawmakers and the White House over how much of Mueller’s findings -- and the evidence behind them -- will be disclosed to Congress and the public. That fight is likely to escalate from social-media wars between the president and his critics to hearing rooms on Capitol Hill and ultimately to the Supreme Court.
Democrats, including the pack of 2020 presidential hopefuls, called for the Mueller report to be made available to Congress and the American public as soon as possible.
Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the House Judiciary chairman, said in a tweet that “we look forward to getting the full Mueller report and related materials. Transparency and the public interest demand nothing less.” Nadler may expand on his comments in two scheduled appearances on political talk shows on Sunday.
Republicans quickly pointed to a line in a letter Barr sent to Congress on Friday where he said Mueller reported no instances when he was told not to take a specific action in his wide-ranging probe.
“I remain committed to as much transparency as possible, and I will keep you informed as to the status of my review,” Barr wrote.
Mueller didn’t issue any final indictments before turning in his report and no sealed indictments are pending, according to officials. That means several people close to Trump, including his eldest son Donald Trump Jr., avoided criminal charges from the special prosecutor.
Whatever Mueller found, the completion of his investigation is a turning point for Trump, whose presidency has been dogged by an inquiry he routinely rages against.
Before wrapping up his probe, Mueller helped secure guilty pleas from five people involved in Trump’s presidential campaign -- including Paul Manafort, who was his campaign chairman, and Michael Flynn, who became Trump’s first national security adviser. Mueller has also indicted more than two dozen Russian hackers and military intelligence officers.
While Mueller never said a word publicly, he and his team of prosecutors used indictments to set out a vivid narrative. It told of hackers tied to Russian intelligence agencies who stole Democratic emails to hurt Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton and who used social media to help spawn division with false and racially charged messages. It uncovered revealing Russian contacts with Trump’s inner circle, such as a meeting in 2016 where Manafort shared polling data with a “fixer” tied to Russian intelligence.
But the full extent of what Mueller learned hasn’t been revealed -- and may never be if he or Barr decide to withhold details that the special counsel didn’t feel involved crimes he felt he could prosecute.
Mueller’s report could be politically disastrous for Trump if the special counsel says he uncovered evidence that would justify a congressional move to impeach the president. Conversely, if he doesn’t, it’s sure to be claimed as vindication by the president that the entire investigation was a “witch hunt.”
Beyond the Mueller probe, Trump isn’t necessarily in the clear. He faces continuing risk from other investigations, with federal prosecutors in New York looking into his company, presidential campaign, and inaugural committee. Mueller has been sharing some matters and handing off others to U.S. attorney’s offices in Manhattan; Alexandria, Virginia; and Washington, as well as the Justice Department’s national security division, giving cases that touch on his personal and business affairs more time to run.
Nor is it certain that others close to the president -- including Trump Jr., who met with a Russian lawyer in 2016 after being promised“dirt” on Clinton -- are out of the woods. Other prosecutors may well be pursuing investigations related to them.
During Barr’s confirmation hearing in February, he said Mueller’s report would be confidential while “the report that goes public would be a report by the attorney general.” He suggested that he might exclude criticism of Trump as inappropriate for any such public report because Justice Department guidelines argue against indicting a sitting president.
“If you’re not going to indict someone, then you don’t stand up there and unload negative information about the person,” he said.
The Justice Department probably won’t want to release the names of people that Mueller investigated but didn’t charge. Material related to ongoing law enforcement operations, grand jury proceedings or classified intelligence programs is also expected to be withheld from the public.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court may decide the fate of Mueller’s findings. Trump and his lawyers have indicated they want the opportunity to issue a rebuttal on anything damaging to the president, and to assert executive privilege over any disclosures of his actions during the presidential transition and the presidency.
But congressional Democrats, who now control the House, say they want broad disclosure of Mueller’s investigative work, citing the earlier success of Republicans in pressuring the Justice Department to release details they said showed anti-Trump bias in the FBI. They have talked of issuing subpoenas to force disclosure and even public testimony by Mueller.
“It is imperative for Mr. Barr to make the full report public and provide its underlying documentation and findings to Congress,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement. “Attorney General Barr must not give President Trump, his lawyers or his staff any ‘sneak preview’ of Special Counsel Mueller’s findings or evidence, and the White House must not be allowed to interfere in decisions about what parts of those findings or evidence are made public.”
Trump --- who answered written questions from Mueller but never sat for an interview with the special counsel -- told reporters on March 20 that he wants the Special Counsel’s report made public. “Let it come out,” he said. “Let people see it.”
--With assistance from Andrew Harris, Shannon Pettypiece, Billy House, Steven T. Dennis, Jennifer Jacobs and Margaret Talev.
To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Strohm in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at firstname.lastname@example.org, Ros Krasny
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.