Mueller's Final Report Will Ignite an Epic War Over Disclosure
(Bloomberg) -- When Special Counsel Robert Mueller closes up shop and submits his long-awaited final report -- possibly within days -- it will be only the start of an explosive chain of events.
There will be a struggle in Congress, on cable TV and social media and probably in the courts over how much must be disclosed from what will begin as a secret report to Attorney General William Barr.
There also will be an epic political fight over whether the findings implicate President Donald Trump in wrongdoing that may even merit his impeachment, as some Democrats say, or clear him after a 21-month investigation that he and other Republicans call a “witch hunt.”
Here’s a look at how the Mueller report is likely to play out:
Why It Starts Out Secret
Justice Department regulations call for a special counsel to provide a final report to the attorney general, who decides what to tell Congress and make public.
Barr has indicated he’s likely to send his own summary of the findings to Congress, rather than Mueller’s actual report. And the vetting process is expected to keep some material secret from both Congress and the public, such as classified information and grand jury proceedings.
The only exception under the regulations is that Congress must be told if the special counsel was prohibited from taking any specific action.
Barr might take days or even a week to complete his report, even as pressure mounts for him to provide it as soon as Mueller submits his findings, according to people familiar with the matter.
Why Barr May Keep Trump Out of It
At Barr’s confirmation hearing in January, he cited the Justice Department’s policies that a president can’t be indicted while in office -- and that prosecutors shouldn’t comment on someone who isn’t indicted.
Former FBI Director James Comey’s public comments on Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server brought criticism at various points from both Democrats and Republicans even if it arguably set a precedent.
“If you’re not going to indict someone, then you don’t stand up there and unload negative information about the person,” Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
It isn’t clear how many details Mueller will even put in his report, especially about Trump. Regulations require only that a special counsel produce “a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel.”
What Democrats Will Demand
Democrats will demand to see Mueller’s full report if Barr declines to turn it over.
Beyond that, they’ve vowed to seek access as well to the bulk of the special counsel’s work--- including documents, interview notes and other evidence.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said Barr should provide Mueller’s report “unedited” and that Congress also “has a clear interest” in obtaining “supporting materials and all the facts and evidence surrounding the numerous investigations into President Trump, his associates and his campaign.”
The Subpoena Power
“We will try to get anything we can get -- including by subpoenaing the report. Subpoenaing Mueller is also an option, as well as anyone else on his team,” Democrat Jamie Raskin, a House Judiciary panel member, said. “It just seems exceedingly unlikely that they would be able to hide this report in a file cabinet someplace."
The demands for full disclosure could result in a legal struggle going all the way to the Supreme Court.
Some Republicans -- who spent two years demanding and getting internal FBI and Justice Department documents that they say showed bias against Trump and for Clinton -- agree that everything should be disclosed.
“I mean everything,” Representative Devin Nunes of California, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview Thursday. “Witness interviews, wiretaps. Everything.”
Democrats may take other steps, including subpoenas for Mueller to testify.
“The public will feel right that this is a cover-up” if details are withheld, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, has said. “A Senate or House committee can subpoena anyone.”
The White House’s Options
White House officials have indicated they may try to suppress information about Trump if Democrats seek to force Mueller’s report to be made public in full -- or they may welcome public release if they believe the president can use it to back up his frequent “NO COLLUSION” tweets.
Before any report is made public, Trump’s lawyers have said they will consider demanding the omission of any information that they believe falls under executive privilege, and they may release a rebuttal that they’ve been working on.
They also may assert executive privilege on testimony or material damaging to the president, potentially opening another messy fight in the courts. Executive privilege is the doctrine that presidents and others in the executive branch must be able to have confidential discussions.
What Each Party Expects
Democrats say Mueller already has established a pattern of collusion between Russia and those around Trump. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia orchestrated a campaign of leaks and social-media deception intended to hurt Clinton and ultimately help Trump win the presidency.
Mueller has won guilty pleas from people involved in Trump’s presidential campaign -- from his campaign chairman Paul Manafort to his first national security adviser Michael Flynn. He’s also charged more than two dozen Russians.
But Republicans will claim vindication for the president if Mueller, a by-the-book prosecutor, doesn’t say there’s evidence that Trump was personally compromised by Russia or sought to obstruct the investigation.
Why It’s Not Over Until It’s Over
Democrats, who won control of the House in November’s midterm elections, are gearing up for investigations and hearings that they say will go beyond whatever Mueller finds -- from contacts with Russia to questions about foreign funding for the Trump Organization and the president’s inaugural committee.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler has described “an administration run amok.” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff has said his panel will make sure “that the policy of the United States is being driven by the national interest, and not by any financial entanglement, financial leverage, or other form of compromise” by “the Russians or the Saudis or anyone else.”
Nor is the work of prosecutors finished.
Longtime Trump adviser and political provocateur Roger Stone has been indicted for lying to Congress about his communications with WikiLeaks, which released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee.
Stone has denied the charges, but Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, testified to a House committee last week that he heard Stone give Trump advance word that WikiLeaks was about to release the material.
Cohen, who’s due to go to prison in May after pleading guilty to felonies, also alleged an array of questionable or illegal actions by Trump -- from authorizing hush-money payments to a porn star who claims he had an affair with her to routinely manipulating financial statements that the Trump Organization submitted to banks and insurance companies.
Trump has tweeted that Cohen is “lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
Federal prosecutors in New York are still looking into Trump’s company, presidential campaign and inaugural committee. Mueller has been sharing some matters and handing off others to U.S. attorney’s offices in New York, Virginia and Washington as well as the Justice Department’s national security division.
State and local prosecutors in New York also are pursuing potential cases.
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