Those hoping America would learn the “principal conclusions” from the Mueller report on Saturday were disappointed.
On Friday evening, William Barr indicated he may be in a position to provide a summary to Congress “as soon as this weekend”, and because “this weekend” is a time period that by definition includes Saturday, the country was on high alert.
Of course the idea that Barr would somehow be able to deliver the Cliffs Notes version of what is, potentially, the most consequential investigation in modern political history, in under 24 hours was probably a bit far-fetched.
Barr and Rod Rosenstein spent the day huddled in the Justice Department while Trump meandered around Mar-a-Lago surrounded by aides, lawyers and, amusingly, Kid Rock, with whom the president had lunch and golfed. Here’s a picture:
You really can’t make this stuff up.
Democrats, meanwhile, reiterated that anything short of full disclosure is unacceptable. Nancy Pelosi said the following in a statement on Saturday:
We are insisting that any briefings to any Committees be unclassified so that Members can speak freely about every aspect of the report and not be confined to what DOJ chooses to release publicly.
Even if DOJ chooses not to prosecute additional individuals, the underlying findings must be provided to Congress and the American people. The Attorney General’s offer to provide the Committees with a summary of the report’s conclusions is insufficient. Congress requires the full report and the underlying documents so that the Committees can proceed with their independent work, including oversight and legislating to address any issues the Mueller report may raise.
Adam Schiff, who has already said he’ll subpoena the full report and sue some folks if he has to, made the media rounds and in case you’re curious as to whether he’s inclined to back off, here is his answer:
And here’s a more comprehensive assessment from Schiff, speaking to CNN about just what will happen in the event Barr decides to stonewall lawmakers:
Jerry Nadler (whose sweeping document requests themselves represent the beginning of an expansive probe into potential wrongdoing on the part of the administration) was unequivocal on Friday evening when asked similar questions by reporters. Here’s Jerry:
Amid competing accounts and in light of all the times Barr and others have cited “consistent with the law” and “consistent with regulations” when it comes to implicitly suggesting that some parts of the report will not be made public, it’s natural to ask whether the special counsel rules actually prevent public disclosure. The answer, as it turns out, is “no”.
Or at least according to Neal Kumar Katyal, who knows a thing or two about the special counsel rules by virtue of having literally written them.
Here are a couple of excerpts from an Op-Ed he penned for The Washington Post called “I wrote the special counsel rules. The attorney general can — and should — release the Mueller report“:
The public has every right to see Robert S. Mueller III’s conclusions. Absolutely nothing in the law or the regulations prevents the report from becoming public. Indeed, the relevant sources of law give Attorney General P. William Barr all the latitude in the world to make it public.
Those regulations, which I had the privilege of drafting in 1998 and 1999 as a young Justice Department lawyer, require three types of reports.
First, the special counsel must give the attorney general “Urgent Reports” during the course of an investigation regarding things such as proposed indictments. Second, the special counsel must provide a report to the attorney general at the end of the investigation, which Mueller delivered on Friday. And third, the attorney general must furnish Congress with a report containing “an explanation for each action … upon conclusion of the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
The regulations anticipated there would be differences among these three. Generally speaking, the final report the special counsel gives to the attorney general would be “confidential,” and the report the attorney general gives to Congress would be “brief.” We wanted to avoid another Starr report — a lurid document going unnecessarily into detail about someone’s intimate conduct and the like. A subject of such a report would have no mechanism to rebut those allegations or get his or her privacy back.
But the mentions of “brief” and “confidential” in the regulations and accompanying commentary were just general guidelines for each type of report. The text of the regulations never required the attorney general’s report to Congress to be short or nonpublic. Rather, that text expressly included a key provision saying the “Attorney General may determine that public release of these reports would be in the public interest,” even if the public release may deviate from ordinary Justice Department protocols.
Consider that issue settled, then.
Of course none of the above means Barr or, more likely, Trump and his attorneys, won’t do everything in their power to try and avoid a scenario where damaging information is made public. That’s one reason why this will probably end up in the high court before it’s all said and done.
“Ultimately, the Supreme Court may decide the fate of Mueller’s findings”, Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs wrote Saturday, adding that “Trump and his lawyers have indicated they want the opportunity to issue a rebuttal on anything damaging to the president, and to assert executive privilege over any disclosures of his actions during the presidential transition and the presidency. “
Whatever the case, it seems likely that Congress (and perhaps the public) will get their first taste of the report on Sunday.
But contrary to the “principal conclusions” characterization of the initial summary Barr will submit to Congress, whatever comes first will probably be seen in hindsight as nothing more than the amuse-bouche.