Mueller report: What happens now special counsel has finished the Trump-Russia probe?

Andrew Buncombe

For the best part of two years, America and the rest of the world have waited for Robert Mueller to complete his report into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Now he has done so, and attorney general William Barr has said he could update members of congress with details as early as this weekend.

“The special counsel has submitted to me today a ‘confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions’ he has reached,” he on Friday wrote to members of Congress, including Republicans Lindsey Graham and Doug Collins, and Democrats Jerrold Nadler and Dianne Feinstein, the chairs and ranking members of the two judiciary committees.

“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.”

He added: “Separately, I intend to consult with deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and special counsel Mueller to determine what other information from the report can be released to Congress and the public consistent with the law.”

So – after all that – what happens next?

All eyes on Bill Barr:

Barr, who oversees the investigation, has said he wants to release as much information as he can about the inquiry, “as is consistent with the law”, including the Special Counsel regulations, and the Department’s long-standing practices and policies. “I remain committed to as much transparency as possible, and I will keep you informed as to the status of my review.”

Barr has said he envisions two reports, and only one for congressional and public consumption.

Barr has said he takes seriously the “shall be confidential” part of the regulations governing Mueller’s report. He has noted that department protocol says internal memos explaining charging decisions should not be released.

During his confirmation hearing, Barr said he will draft, after Mueller turns in his report, a second one for the chairman and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees. But here again, the regulations provide little guidance for what such a report would say.

The attorney general is required only to say the investigation has concluded and describe or explain any times when he or Rosenstein decided an action Mueller proposed “was so inappropriate or unwarranted” that it should not be pursued.

Pressure:

Pressure is already mounting from Democrats for it to be made completely public. All of the major Democrats running for 2020 made such demands, as has Democratic senator Mark Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sent out a joint statement calling on Mr Barr “to make the full report public and provide its underlying documentation and findings to Congress”.

“The White House must not be allowed to interfere in decisions about what parts of those findings or evidence are made public,” they said.

Some senior Republicans have also demanded the report be made public. Senator Chuck Grassley said releasing the report would “to finally put an end to the speculation and innuendo that has loomed over this administration since its earliest days”.

White House:

Mr Trump has yet to comment on the report. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement: “The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course. The White House has not received or been briefed on the Special Counsel’s report.”

Mr Trump’s lawyers lawyers say they were “pleased” that the special counsel has delivered his report.

Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow issued their joint statement within minutes of Barr’s letter to key members of Congress. “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.”

But Mueller’s report, still confidential, sets the stage for big public fights to come, including in all likelihood, in federal court.

It’s not clear how much of the report will become public or provided to Congress. It is likely the White House will claim executive privilege permits the president to determine how transparent to be. Indeed, Mr Giuliani has also raised the prospect Trump legal team could try to invoke executive privilege to prevent the disclosure of any confidential conversation the president has had with his aides.

This week, asked by reporters whether it should be made public, Mr Trump said he would be “happy” if the report is made public. “Let it come out, let people see it, that’s up to the attorney general....and we’ll see what happens,” he said.

Legal cloud over the president.

Mr Trump still has to contend with state and federal investigations in New York even with the Russia investigation complete.

Some legal observers have ling said the greater threat to the presidency could stem from ongoing investigations in New York.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are still investigating hush money payments that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen arranged to women who claimed affairs with Trump.

Another inquiry is looking at the president’s inaugural committee and whether it received illegal foreign contributions.

The US Justice Department has held for nearly a half-century that a sitting president is immune from indictment. But he could be charged after leaving office. Mr Trump has denied breaking any laws.

Impeachment?

As Mr Mueller’s report was handed in, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said the special counsel was not recommending any further indictments. It is possible some indictments remain sealed and could be unsealed later.

Democrats will now have to wait and see the details of the report to decide whether it has found the president has obstructed justice or acted in a way that would merit them seeking his impeachment. Democrats are very cautious of taking such a step, aware as they are of the potential political backlash.

With inputs from Associated Press