The United States Justice Department’s announcement that the Mueller Report was handed to Attorney General William Barr on Friday has started a political and legal firestorm. The report and fight over its publication will eclipse any other news event in Washington in the coming days, including the fight over U.S. President Donald Trump’s border wall, the AIPAC conference and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the White House.
One of the main reasons the report will dominate the headlines is that, as of Saturday morning, no one can tell what is included in it. U.S. media outlets are competing to acquire details about the secret report. So far, the only detail that has leaked is that Mueller has not included new indictments on top of the 37 he has already filed previously.
Now, a political battle will begin over when and how the report will be presented to the public.
What is the Mueller report?
Robert Mueller was appointed in May 2017 to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. He received the job after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, who was in charge of investigating the issue up to that point. Mueller, himself a former FBI director, assembled a team of investigators and served 37 indictments thus far — mostly against Russian citizens, but also against several senior Trump advisers. On Friday, after almost two years of work, he filed a report summarizing his work and offering conclusions.
Does the report endanger Trump’s presidency?
It’s too early to say. A senior Justice Department official briefed the media saying that Mueller is not filing any new indictments. Some of Trump’s supporters have used this information to claim he has been vindicated. Trump’s critics, meanwhile, pointed out that since Trump is president, Mueller cannot indict him — but he can still expose information that will lead to a congressional investigation or impeachment process. Since no member of Congress has yet to see the report, it’s too early to answer this question.
The announcement that no more indictiments will be filed will presumably be greeted with relief by others close to Trump — specifically Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner, who have both been the subject of media speculation about possible meetings with Russians before Trump became president.
Will the report become public?
Parts of the report will probably remain secret for years, because of legal and intelligence issues, but there are already calls in Washington to release the entire report except for specific reductions. The decision is in the hands of AG William Barr, who has not ruled out publishing it but also hasn’t promised to do that.
Democrats in Congress are pushing for releasing the report, mainly because they believe it will include information that will embarrass and harm Trump. Republicans have offered a more cautious approach, saying there should be transparency “as much as possible.”
What has Mueller achieved so far?
The main “victims” of Mueller’s “witch hunt,” as Trump has called it, have thus far been former close advisers to Trump. Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager, has been sentenced to seven years in prison, primarily for breaking tax rules. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, chose to cooperate with Mueller in return for easier sentencing. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his ties with Russia. Mueller has also recently indicted Trump’s former political adviser Roger Stone.
In addition, Mueller’s team indicted dozens of Russian citizens for interfering in the election. Most of these Russians work for the Kremlin’s cyber-propaganda arm, and their work in 2016 was focused on harming Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and helping Trump win the election.
Will the report prove that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia?
Mueller’s indictments thus far have failed to prove such a connection. The report is expected to address this question, but the fact that no new indictments are filed could point to a negative answer.
How will the report influence Trump’s other corruption investigations?
It probably won’t have much of an influence. Trump’s greatest legal jeopardy comes from ongoing investigations involving him and people close to him in the state of New York. Those cases could perhaps be bolstered by some of Mueller’s findings. The state’s AG, Letitia James, has called on the Justice Department to immediately release the full report.
Will the report have an Israeli angle?
Over the past two years there have been several news stories about investigative angles involving Israel that were pursued by Mueller’s team, including Israeli cyber companies that offered their services to Trump’s campaign, and an Israeli official who worked with Manafort.
As long as the report doesn’t become public, it’s impossible to say if it will address these issues and shed more light on them.
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