Five tantalizing questions about Mueller’s investigation


FEBRUARY 24, 2019

Several loose ends remain in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation amid signs that it’s possible the long probe could be winding down.

Here are five questions about the investigation as Mueller’s probe nears its two-year anniversary.

Is Mueller really close to the end?

Trump’s allies and legal advisers have predicted for over a year that Mueller’s investigation was nearing completion, only to be disproven by new charges or investigative maneuvers.

However, there have been signals more recently that the special counsel is approaching his endpoint. Several cases, including those of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn, have moved toward sentencing.

Mueller has brought on federal prosecutors from other districts to assist in some cases, including the prosecution of Trump ally Roger Stone, a sign he may ultimately look to hand off some cases.

Press reports have identified prosecutors leaving Mueller’s office to return to their other jobs. And Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who first appointed Mueller and had been overseeing the investigation for more than a year, is expected to leave the Justice Department in coming weeks.

Various news outlets reported this week that the department was prepared to receive Mueller’s report as soon as next week, but a Justice Department official said Friday that would not happen.

Some unresolved matters cause some to believe the conclusion and Mueller’s final report are further off.

Mueller is still wrangling in court with two witnesses over grand jury subpoenas, including a mystery foreign company that has asked the Supreme Court to take up the case. As of January, former Trump campaign aide Richard Gates was cooperating in several ongoing investigations. Stone’s trial is also months away, and it’s possible he could decide to cooperate.

Randall Eliason, a George Washington University law professor and former assistant U.S. attorney, said he’s skeptical the probe is actually nearing its end.

“I’ll believe it when I hear it from Mueller himself,” he said. “We’ve heard this so many times in the past and there is so much out there that still needs to be resolved.”

Legal analysts note that Mueller submitting his final report does not necessarily mean an end to the investigation, given that the special counsel has referred cases to other districts.

“Shutting down the Mueller office is not the same as shutting down the investigation,” said Steven Cash, a lawyer at Day Pitney and former counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Will we see more charges?

Many wonder if Mueller will unveil more charges ± particularly ones that allege Americans were involved in a conspiracy to interfere in the election.

Mueller’s court filings in the cases against Manafort and a Russian troll farm have referenced “uncharged individuals” and ongoing investigations, suggesting prosecutors are pursuing indictments against unknown subjects.

Meanwhile, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said he referred cases to Mueller where witnesses questioned in the panel’s own Russia probe were suspected of lying. Earlier this month, the House Intelligence Committee shipped off dozens of witness transcripts to Mueller that could be cited as evidence of perjury if Mueller finds that anyone lied.

“We could see more arrests,” said Elie Honig, a defense attorney at Lowenstein Sandler and former assistant U.S. attorney. “There either already could be indictments that are under seal or there could be more arrests to come. It’s possible Mueller is preparing one last round of charges.”

Prosecutors are also sifting through troves of electronic evidence seized in searches of Stone’s residences, which could offer new leads or present new evidence of criminal activity.

How will Barr manage the report?

New Attorney General William Barr will decide what parts of Mueller’s report are released.

Barr said during his confirmation hearing that he would release as much about Mueller’s findings as possible in accordance with the law, though he did not commit to releasing it entirely.

Special counsel regulations require Mueller to submit a confidential report to the attorney general when he is finished. After that happens, Barr has broad discretion to decide what to release to Congress and what can be made public.

Legal and national security experts say that sensitive national security information and grand jury material would be redacted from any public report. It is also possible Barr will choose to summarize the findings in his own document to avoid the protected material. CNN reported Wednesday that Barr plans to give a summary to Congress soon after Mueller gives him the report.

Honig also noted that Barr first could share the report privately with the White House, raising the possibility Trump could object to certain portions becoming public by citing executive privilege.

Barr could be subject to hand wringing from congressional Democrats if he limits the release of the report, but could also draw Trump’s ire if he reveals unsavory information about the president.

House Democrats are likely to subpoena the report if they believe Barr has not produced enough from it. They could also subpoena Mueller or Rosenstein to testify – setting the stage for high drama on Capitol Hill.

What will the report look like?

Just as Barr has broad discretion over what to reveal, Mueller has freedom in writing it.

The regulations only require that the report explain why the special counsel chose to prosecute certain crimes or decided against bringing other charges. That means the report could be a terse, two-page summary or an elaborate and detailed narrative akin to one of Mueller’s “speaking” conspiracy indictments.

Mueller could choose to include classified and grand jury material in the report or decline to do so in a way that allows more of it to be released to the public. There is also nothing that precludes Mueller from issuing multiple reports.

It remains unclear whether his final documentation will answer the question at the core of the investigation: Did the Trump campaign conspire with Russia to interfere in the election?

Many legal analysts believe that Mueller’s report will be informative and fact-driven and will not resemble the salacious 500-page report from Ken Starr that laid out details of the relationship between then-President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

“It’s going to be very well drafted, it’s going to be very well thought out,” said Cash. “I think it’s going to be a little bit boring. It’s not going to be like the Ken Starr report.”

Cash said the report would echo Detective Sergeant Joe from the series Dragnet: “‘Just the facts, ma’am.'”

What will the end mean for Trump?

Perhaps the most consequential question is what Mueller’s report reveals about Trump and any knowledge he had of his campaign’s contacts with Russians.

Trump has long denied that his campaign colluded with Moscow to meddle in the election and regularly derides the investigation as a partisan “witch hunt.”

It’s no secret Trump is eager to have the investigation wrapped up; he wrote that the probe “must end” in an early morning tweet Friday, describing it as “so bad” for the country.

“So long as the Mueller report does not personally implicate Donald Trump, it’s a good thing that it comes out,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

“And the reason why is very simple: They want this albatross off their neck. They’ve been playing defense for two years. They want to play offense now and show the Democrats’ actions are all about getting Donald J. Trump, not actually finding out what happened about Russian interference during the 2016 election,” O’Connell said.

However, if the report reveals derogatory information about Trump, it could be politically damaging and produce new headaches for the White House. And it could serve as a roadmap for Democrats looking to investigate the president and possibly launch impeachment proceedings.

The conclusion of Mueller’s investigation will also not mean an end to the president’s legal woes. Prosecutors are still pursuing investigations related to the president in other districts, including the Manhattan probe into former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s campaign finance violations stemming from payments to women who alleged affairs with Trump before the election.

Cohen is scheduled to testify – publicly – before Congress next Wednesday.

Courtesy/Source: The Hill