Robert Mueller submits report to Justice Department
WASHINGTON — Special Counsel Robert Mueller delivered a report on his inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election to Attorney General William Barr, the Justice Department said Friday, bringing to a close an investigation that has consumed the nation and cast a shadow over President Trump for nearly two years.
A senior Justice Department official said Friday that the special counsel has not recommended any further indictments. The inquiry has lead to guilty pleas from former advisers to the president and criminal charges against 34 people.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Barr wrote that Mueller ‘‘has concluded his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters.’’ Barr may brief them on the special counsel’s findings “as soon as this weekend,” the letter said.
It is up to Barr how much of the report to share with Congress and, by extension, the American public. The House voted unanimously in March on a nonbinding resolution to make public the report’s findings, an indication of the deep support within both parties to air whatever evidence prosecutors uncovered.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, and Senate minority leader Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, issued a joint statement Friday, saying ‘‘it is imperative for Mr. Barr to make the full report public and provide its underlying documentation and findings to Congress. . . . The American people have a right to the truth.’’
In a tweet, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called on Barr to “release the report to the American public. Now.”
Massachusetts’ other senator, Ed Markey, added that “a summary of the report or Mr. Barr simply briefing Congress on its contents would be insufficient.”
Barr wrote that he “remained committed to as much transparency as possible and I will keep you informed as to the status of my review.” He also said that Justice Department officials never had to check Mueller because he proposed an inappropriate or unwarranted investigative step — an action that Barr would have been required to report to Congress under the regulations. His statement suggests that Mueller’s inquiry proceeded without political interference.
Since Mueller’s appointment in May 2017, his team has focused on how Russian operatives sought to sway the outcome of the 2016 presidential race and whether anyone tied to the Trump campaign, wittingly or unwittingly, cooperated with them. While the inquiry, started months earlier by the FBI, unearthed a far-ranging Russian influence operation, no public evidence has emerged that the president or his aides illegally assisted it.
Nonetheless, the damage to Trump and those in his circle has been extensive. A half-dozen former Trump aides have been indicted or convicted of crimes, mostly for lying to federal investigators or Congress. Others remain under investigation in cases that Mueller’s office handed off to federal prosecutors in New York and elsewhere. Dozens of Russian intelligence officers or citizens, along with three Russian companies, were charged in cases that are likely to languish in court because the defendants cannot be extradited to the United States.
After a week of growing expectation that Mueller’s long-awaited report would soon arrive, a security officer from Mueller’s office delivered it Friday afternoon to the office of Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who has overseen the investigation from the start, according to spokeswoman Kerri Kupec. Within minutes of that delivery, the report was transmitted upstairs to Barr.
Around 4:35, White House lawyer Emmet Flood was notified that the Justice Department had received the report. About a half-hour after that notification, a senior department official delivered Barr’s letter to the relevant House and Senate committees and senior congressional leaders, officials said.
One official described the report as ‘‘comprehensive,’’ but added that very few people have seen it.
Even with the report’s filing, Mueller is expected to retain his role as special counsel for a wind-down period, officials said. A small number of his staff will remain in the office to help shut down the operations.
Barr told congressional leaders that he would decide what to release after consulting with Mueller and Rosenstein. A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said, “The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course.” She added that the White House had not seen or been briefed on the report.
Even though Mueller’s report is complete, some aspects of his inquiry remain active and may be overseen by the same prosecutors once they are reassigned to their old jobs within the Justice Department. For instance, recently filed court documents suggest that investigators are still examining why former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort turned over campaign polling data in 2016 to a Russian associate whom prosecutors said was tied to Russian intelligence.
Mueller looked extensively at whether Trump obstructed justice to protect himself or his associates. But despite months of negotiations, prosecutors were unable to personally interview the president.
Trump’s lawyers insisted that he respond only to written questions from the special counsel. Even though under current Justice Department policy a sitting president cannot be indicted, Trump’s lawyers worried that his responses in an oral interview could bring political repercussions, including impeachment, or put him in legal jeopardy once he is out of office.
Not since Watergate has a special prosecutor’s inquiry so mesmerized the American public. Trump has helped make Mueller a household name, attacking his investigation an average of about twice a day as an unfair, politically motivated attempt to invalidate his election. He never forgave former attorney general Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia inquiry, an action that cleared the way for Rosenstein to appoint Mueller.
Trump reiterated his attacks on the special counsel this week, saying Mueller decided “out of the blue” to write a report, ignoring that regulations require him to do so. But the president also said the report should be made public because of “tens of millions” of Americans would want to know what it contains.
“Let people see it,” Trump said. “There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no nothing.”
In court, the evidence amassed by the Mueller team has held up. Every defendant who is not still awaiting trial either pleaded guilty or was convicted by a jury. Although no American has been charged with illegally plotting with the Russians to tilt the election, Mueller uncovered a web of lies by former Trump aides.
Five of them were found to have deceived federal investigators or Congress about their interactions with Russians during the campaign or the transition They include Manafort; Michael T. Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser; and Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and longtime fixer. A sixth former adviser, Roger Stone, is to stand trial in November on charges of lying to Congress.
Those who know Mueller, a former FBI director, predicted a concise, legalistic report devoid of opinions — nothing like the 445-page treatise that Kenneth Starr, who investigated President Bill Clinton, produced in 1998. Operating under a now-defunct statute that governed independent counsels, Starr had far more leeway than Mueller.
The regulations that govern Mueller, who is under the supervision of the Justice Department, only require him to explain his decisions to either seek or decline to seek criminal charges in a confidential report to the attorney general. The attorney general is then required to notify the leadership of the House and Senate judiciary committees.
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Barr promised to release as much information as possible, saying “the country needs a credible resolution of these issues.” But he may be reluctant to release the part of Mueller’s report that may be of most interest: who the special counsel declined to prosecute and why, especially if Trump is on that list.
The department’s longstanding practice, with rare exceptions, is not to identify people who were merely investigative targets to avoid unfairly tainting their reputations, especially because they would have no chance to defend themselves in a court of law. Rosenstein, who has overseen Mueller’s work and may have a say in what is released, is a firm believer in that principle.
In a May 2017 letter that the president seized upon as justification for his decision to fire James Comey as FBI director, Rosenstein severely criticized Comey for announcing during the previous year that Hillary Clinton, then a presidential candidate, would not be charged with a crime for mishandling classified information as secretary of state. Releasing “derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation,” Rosenstein wrote, is “a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”
Weighing that principle against the public’s right to know is even more fraught in the president’s case. If Mueller declined to pursue criminal charges against Trump, he might have been guided not by lack of evidence, but by the Justice Department’s legal opinions that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
The department’s Office of Legal Counsel has repeatedly advised that the stigma and burden of being under prosecution would damage the president’s ability to lead.
Trump has said the decision about what to release is up to Barr. But behind the scenes, White House lawyers are preparing for the possibility they may need to argue some material is protected by executive privilege, especially if the report discusses whether the president’s interactions with his top aides or legal advisers are evidence of obstruction of justice.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, head of the House Judiciary Committee, has argued that the department’s view that presidents are protected from prosecution makes it all the more important for the public to see Mueller’s report.
“To maintain that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and then to withhold evidence of wrongdoing from Congress because the president cannot be charged, is to convert DOJ policy into the means for a coverup,” he said before the House approved its nonbinding resolution to disclose the special counsel’s findings.
Some predict that any disclosures from Mueller’s report will satisfy neither Trump’s critics nor his defenders, especially given the public’s high expectations for answers. A Washington Post-Schar School poll in February illustrated the sharp divide in public opinion: It found that of those surveyed, most Republicans did not believe evidence of crimes that Mueller’s team had already proved in court, while most Democrats believed he had proved crimes that he had not even alleged.
Recent weeks have brought fresh signs that the special counsel’s work was ending. Five prosecutors have left, reducing the team from 16 to 11. Mueller’s office confirmed that Andrew Weissmann, a top deputy, is also expected to leave soon. A key FBI agent, David W. Archey, has transferred to another post.
Rosenstein was expected to leave the Justice Department by mid-March, but may be lingering to see the report to its conclusion.
Material from The Washington Post is included in this report. Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed.