You may be disappointed by the Mueller report – NBC News

WASHINGTON — Millions of Americans are waiting for Robert Mueller to give them the final word on whether the Trump campaign conspired with the 2016 Russian election interference effort — and whether their president is under the influence of a foreign adversary.

Millions of Americans may be sorely disappointed.

Unless Mueller files a detailed indictment charging members of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia, the public may never learn the full scope of what Mueller and his team has found — including potentially scandalous behavior that doesn’t amount to a provable crime.

The reason: The special counsel operates under rules that severely constrain how much information can be made public.

Those rules require that the special counsel’s report to the attorney general be “confidential.” And, while the attorney general is required to notify Congress about Mueller’s findings, the rules say those reports must amount to “brief notifications, with an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.”

“Expectations that we will see a comprehensive report from the special counsel are high. But the written regulations that govern the special counsel’s reporting requirements should arguably dampen those expectations,” said Chuck Rosenberg, a former federal prosecutor and NBC News analyst.

When Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr released the report of his investigation of President Bill Clinton in 1998, all of Washington paused to digest the 453-page document (plus 2,000 pages of appendixes), with its salacious details of the president’s sexual dalliance with an intern. It was made public at the same time it was sent to Congress.

The Mueller report won’t be anything like that. Starr operated under the now-defunct independent counsel law, meaning he called many of his own shots, outside the purview of the Justice Department. Mueller is a special counsel under Justice Department supervision, subject to very specific regulations.

Here is the sum total of what the rules say about a final report:

“At the conclusion of the Special Counsel’s work, he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel.”

What’s more, a 1999 document outlining that rule in the federal register criticizes the way in which independent counsel reports like Starr’s were made public, saying that a public prosecutors report “provides an incentive to over-investigate, in order to avoid potential public criticism for not having turned over every stone, and creates potential harm to individual privacy interests.”

Memos explaining decisions not to prosecute can be long or short, and there is nothing in the rules to prevent Mueller from writing a 500-page narrative laying out the behavior of the Trump team with regard to Russia in excruciating detail.

However, that report will go to the attorney general, and under the regulations, it is secret.

The attorney general is required to send a report to Congress. But here is what the rule says about that:

“To help ensure congressional and public confidence in the integrity of the process, the regulations impose on the Attorney General these reporting requirements to the Judiciary Committees of the Congress. These reports will occur on three occasions: on the appointment of a Special Counsel, on the Attorney General’s decision to remove a Special Counsel, and on the completion of the Special Counsel’s work.

“These reports will be brief notifications, with an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.”

There is a wildcard — if the Mueller report contains allegations of potentially impeachable offenses against the president, scholars have said the Justice Department would have to pass the full details of that to Congress.

But short of that, it’s not clear Congress will get access to the evidence Mueller has gathered.


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