Tue 26 January 2021

Caroline Orr explains how special counsel Mueller’s report represents the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday wrapped up his investigation into Donald Trump and Russian election interference, and delivered his long-awaited report to Attorney General William Barr.

The nearly two year investigation has already resulted in the indictment of 37 individuals and entities, including several members of Trump’s presidential campaign, his former campaign chairman (Paul Manafort), and his former personal attorney (Michael Cohen).

At the moment, the content of the report is still a mystery. We do know, based on a letter from Barr released late Friday, that he believes Mueller’s investigation — which Trump and his allies have attacked for months as a partisan “witch hunt” — was conducted properly.

While Mueller’s report is being described as a “final report,” this is somewhat of a misnomer.

Barr emphasized in the letter that he would have had to inform congressional leaders if Mueller had done anything “inappropriate or unwarranted,” but he concluded that “there were no such instances during the Special Counsel’s investigation.”

Beyond that, we don’t much about what Mueller wrote in his report, but here’s what we can expect over the coming days and weeks.

Releasing the report

Now that it’s in the attorney general’s hands, Barr will first brief congressional leaders on Mueller’s conclusions, including his decisions on who he charged and didn’t charge. That could happen as early as this weekend, according to Barr.

Next, Barr will consult with Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein regarding the release of additional information from Mueller to Congress, and/or the public.

There are at least seven separate lines of investigation into Trump, his administration, his campaign, and his businesses.

This is where it gets messy. Barr will ultimately decide whether to share the information in the report with the public, and if so, how much of that information he will share.

Thus far, he has refused to commit to releasing the whole report when pressed. During his confirmation hearings, Barr said he would only release what is consistent with the DOJ’s regulations, which are up to his interpretation.

The Mueller report as a midpoint

While Mueller’s report is being described as a “final report,” this is somewhat of a misnomer.

The report Mueller handed over to Barr on Friday represents the completion of one arm of the Russia investigation, which is actually a collection of separate and overlapping inquiries encompassing criminal, counterintelligence, and congressional probes.

The special counsel’s investigation falls broadly into the “criminal” category, but it also includes counterintelligence elements and intersects with the congressional probes. Mueller’s findings may also be used as the basis for further congressional and criminal investigations.

Thus, even though the DOJ reported Friday that Mueller doesn’t plan on issuing any further indictments himself, there is still a strong possibility of more indictments — just not from special counsel Mueller.

Trump’s ongoing troubles

Even if Mueller finds evidence that Trump committed crimes, it won’t likely result in any immediate charges. While legal scholars disagree on whether a sitting president can be indicted, DOJ guidelines prohibit it, and Barr has said he wouldn’t change that practice.

However, this doesn’t mean Trump is in the clear.

To date, there are at least seven separate lines of investigation into Trump, his administration, his campaign, and his businesses.

This is where it gets messy. Barr will ultimately decide whether to share the information in the report with the public.

Mueller’s investigation was relatively limited in scope, as he was charged with looking into whether there was coordination (“collusion”) between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, and whether Trump obstructed justice during that investigation. However, Mueller’s team was also given authority to look into other potentially criminal matters that arose during the course of their investigation.

We have already seen Mueller hand off evidence uncovered during his investigation to other prosecutors, including in the Southern District of New York (SDNY), and it’s entirely possible that we will see additional cases stemming from evidence unearthed by the special counsel.

Furthermore, while the scope of Mueller’s investigation was limited to collusion and obstruction of justice, other investigatory bodies have far more independence regarding what to investigation, how aggressively to pursue those investigations, and whether to bring criminal charges.

Mueller’s report as a roadmap

The Mueller report could also be used as a roadmap for congressional lawmakers and other investigators, giving them crucial information regarding where to probe further, or even providing clues that may lead to entirely new areas of inquiry.

This could include both criminal and political processes. While federal and state prosecutors are investigating areas where Trump and his associates may have broken the law, the Democratic-led House of Representatives can look into a broad range of matters that are relevant to the various congressional committees.

Congress doesn’t have the power to bring criminal charges, but they can take action to curb potential abuses of power by Trump, and, if warranted, they can use any evidence they uncover to start the impeachment process.

In other words, today’s report is not, in fact, the final chapter of this story. There are still loose ends that need to be tied up, and there is no shortage of manpower working on just that. The Mueller report marks the end of the beginning not the beginning of the end.

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