Mueller report: What happens next?

Special counsel Robert Mueller has completed his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and turned over his report to Attorney General William Barr.

Barr announced Sunday that Mueller’s report cleared President Donald Trump of accusations that he or members of his campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the election. Barr went on to say in a four-page letter to congressional leaders that there was not sufficient evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of justice.

Democrats in Congress are calling for Barr to release the report in its entirety, as they question Barr’s conclusions.

Barr has suggested that while he wants to release as much of the report as possible, much will be withheld over security concerns and long-standing Department of Justice policies.

Here’s what we know about the process of releasing parts of the report and what could happen in the days and months to come:

First, what was Mueller asked to do?

Mueller was appointed after James Comey was fired on May 9, 2017. Mueller was appointed on May 17 by Rod Rosenstein, who was then acting attorney general after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation.

Rosenstein appointed Mueller to investigate:

  • Any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.
  • Any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.
  • Any other matters within the scope of  the statute prescribing the special counsel's jurisdiction.

When did Mueller finish his investigation? 

It’s not clear when the investigation was completed, but the results were turned over to Barr late Friday afternoon. Barr notified Congress Friday that he would present the counsel’s “principal conclusions” from the investigation “soon.” He presented them on Sunday.

What did Barr’s letter to Congress say?

According to Barr, here is what Mueller's investigation found:

No collusion: "The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

Russia tried, but the campaign didn't bite: "As noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign."

No obstruction charge from Mueller: "The Special Counsel states that 'while this report does not conclude the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

While Mueller presented both sides of the argument for charging the president with obstruction of justice, he drew no conclusions as to whether Trump should be charged.

Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided that the evidence was "not sufficient" to support charging Trump with obstruction of justice.

Barr wrote of the potential obstruction charge, "In cataloging the President's actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent ... My goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel's report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations and Departmental policies."

No further indictments: Mueller's prosecutors will not be issuing indictments for anyone else.

What didn’t happen in the Mueller investigation?

Mueller did not indict Jaren Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. or others who some thought might be in legal danger – especially those who were involved in a meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer in June 2016.

Also, Mueller never subpoenaed the president to testify. Trump did answer some written questions from Mueller’s prosecutors.

Will the public see the full report?

That decision is up to Barr. He is under no legal obligation to share the report with the public. He is obliged only to make a summary report to congressional leaders.

That being said, Barr is not prohibited from sharing the report with the public. However, he cannot share grand jury testimony – that is illegal under Rule 6e of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

During his confirmation hearing, Barr said he was “committed to as much transparency as possible. ” He added that he would be guided by the justice department’s “long-standing practices and policies.” That means he will follow the policy of not making public remarks about people who were not charged with a crime.

How much of the report will Congress see?

Barr, according to the special counsel regulations that were drafted in 1999, must provide a report to leaders of the House and Senate judiciary committees. In that report, he must say how many, if any, times the special counsel was told he could not take a specific action, such as issuing a subpoena.

The report also must say why the special counsel’s work ended.

There is nothing in the regulations that says how much detail must be shared with the Republicans and Democrats who make up the leadership on the judiciary committees.

What about executive privilege?

Some of the information may be withheld from the public if the White House claims executive privilege – meaning the president claims that certain internal executive branch information is confidential and not to be shared with the public.

However, a claim of executive privilege would likely be challenged in court.

What happens if members of Congress are not satisfied with the summary?

There are several options lawmakers can employ to try to get more information from Barr about Mueller’s report.

They can start by requesting documents used in making the report. They can call witnesses, including Mueller, Barr and Rosenstein, to testify either in public or in private.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, said in a letter to Barr last month that it was not unusual to provide congressional committees with the materials used to draw conclusions in federal investigations.

"In other closed and pending high-profile cases alleging wrongdoing by public officials, both the department and the FBI have produced substantial amounts of investigative material, including classified and law enforcement sensitive information," Nadler along with other Democratic congressional leaders said in the letter sent to Barr. 

On Sunday, Nadler and other Democratic congressional leaders said in a joint statement, “It is unacceptable that, after Special Counsel Mueller spent 22 months meticulously uncovering this evidence, Attorney General Barr made a decision not to charge the President in under 48 hours. The Attorney General did so without even interviewing the President.

“The Attorney General must release the report and the underlying evidence in full and appear before the House Judiciary Committee to answer our questions without delay.”

Can’t Congress just subpoena the full report?

Yes, Congress can subpoena the report, but just because congressional leaders ask for it doesn’t mean Barr will turn it over.

The Justice Department will likely argue that information such as grand jury testimony or classified information used to produce the report cannot, by law, be shared. That means the Justice Department would fight a subpoena asking for such information.

That fight would end up in court if congressional leaders do not take no for an answer. It would then be up to a judge to decide who gets to see what.

 Was Trump not indicted because he is a sitting president?

There is nothing in the Constitution that says the president cannot be prosecuted for a crime. However, under Richard Nixon's administration, the Justice Department issued an opinion that argued that "structural principles" in the Constitution suggest a sitting president cannot be indicted for a crime. Indicting a president and having him stand trial, the opinion said, would interfere with the president carrying out his duties.

Are any other Trump-related investigations still ongoing?

Yes, there are other investigations going on. Trump is believed to be “Individual 1” in the case of Michael Cohen’s campaign finance violations related to hush money payments to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

In addition:

  • Trump's inaugural committee is allegedly being investigated on suspicion of wrongdoing, according to the Wall Street Journal. 
  • Former adviser Michael Flynn cooperated with Mueller in 19 meetings, according to his attorneys. Mueller described Flynn's cooperation in "investigations."
  • There is a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, a media company, which admitted – along with the Trump campaign – to paying one of the women who say they had affairs with Trump.
  • Investigations in the Justice Department's Southern District of New York office are believed to be looking into Trump's financial actions.
  • There are several ongoing congressional investigations.

What happens next? 

Right now, CNN is reporting that the process of “scrubbing” the report of  grand jury and classified material “has begun,” according to a Justice Department official. Once the report is stripped of that material, Barr will then decide what is to be released.

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