Thursday provided Americans with an exceptionally rare political moment. The House of Representatives voted unanimously on an issue so fraught with partisanship that opposing sides are unable to remain civil, much less agree on anything. A non-binding resolution designed as a message to Attorney General William Barr, the House voted 420-0 (four Republicans voted present) to make special counsel Robert Mueller's much-anticipated report public.
It was a symbolic measure that was immediately blocked in the Senate by Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who says he believes Hillary Clinton has not been treated with the same investigative seal as Donald Trump. (The fact that she has no public office of any kind since 2012 has apparently escaped his notice.) Graham needed to soothe Trump's used feelings after 1
Ragging on Clinton and refusing to late senators go on record in support of releasing the Mueller report was a consolation only the president's favorite senator could give him. It didn't seem to help, considering the president's hysterical reaction on Friday morning when he actually suggested there should be no report at all:
No doubt Trump's House knew that Graham would step up to defend the president, and Therefore they are free to pretend they care about transparency. Still, it was probably a good thing to get all those Republicans on the record. It may well be something they come to regret.
Waiting for Mueller is turning into a rolling national attack. For the last few months there have been a number of reports that the investigation is coming to a close and that Mueller is getting ready to close up shop. So far, it hasn't happened. We have also learned that various members of the team have either been reassigned or are planning to move on to other jobs. On Thursday the special counseling office confirmed that Andrew Weissmann, the prosecutor who handled the Manafort case, is leaving, which sets off even more speculation that Mueller is getting ready to turn off the lights.
It's true, we don't know how much more Mueller has left to other prosecutors for follow-up. We do know that Roger Stone's trial has been set for November, so if Mueller is moving on, someone else will be handling it. And the U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York seem to pursue a number of investigations that are at least tangentially related to the Mueller probe.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that SDNY prosecutors have requested emails some pretty damning "pardon" talk between former trump lawyer Michael Cohen and another lawyer who created a "back channel" to Trump's current personal counsel, Rudy Giuliani. That, suggesting that they may be interested in whether or not Trump and his associates sought to obstruct justice in that case. There is a lot of evidence that criminal investigations are ongoing, just beyond the Mueller probe.
Adding all this up, it does appear that we are reaching some sort of crescendo. If Mueller is done, the assumption is that he will write up the results of the investigation and send it to the attorney general, who will then decide if he wants to send it to C ongress . Legally, Barr has total discretion at that point: He could send the report as written, summarize it in some form or just lock it up in a file and never show it to anyone. Considering the Justice Department's policy holding that a president cannot be considered, and since the Justice Department does not, in fact, do so against the evidence against anyone who has not been indicted, Barr could easily rationalize such a decision.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff , D-Calif., Said on MSNBC that he was prepared to do whatever is necessary to see the report and also get access to the underlying evidence, including calling Mueller to testify and going to court. A couple of weeks ago forms SDNY prosecutor Nelson W. Cunningham, who served as general counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Joe Biden was chair (and was also a White House lawyer under Bill Clinton), wrote a piece for the Daily Beast in which he clarified that the "Mueller report" is actually two reports.
Recall that some time back we learned that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into the president of the United States was a Russian agent – knowingly or otherwise – and that investigation was then folded into Mueller's mandate. As noted at the time, acting FBI director Andrew McCabe made quite a point of that during his book tour, even describing how he briefed the Gang of Eight congressional leaders about that decision. If you are wondering why McCabe thought so important, this could be the reason: Cunningham wrote:
Significantly, unlike a final criminal report,
a counter counter intelligence report cannot be bottled up. By statute it must be shared with Congress. The House and Senate intelligence committees are legally referred to as given reports, in writing, or significant intelligence and counter intelligence activities or failures. Mueller's findings will certainly qualify.
Done well (and his team seem to do everything well), it will provide a much richer, broader narrative description of Russia's effort to interfere in 2016, the nature of any links or cooperation between the Russians and the Trump campaign, and whether or not Trump or his associates were or could have acquired assets for the Russians (including by obstructing the investigation) – as well as conclusions for action
Frank Figliuzzi, a form FBI assistant director for counterintelligence , Backed this up on MSNBC this week:
The Mueller case at heart is an intelligence case. What will mean for the report, the content and the access Congress will have to? It means that the House and Senate intelligence commits, because it's a CI case, going to be able to demand a briefing on results and significant developments …
I'm telling you, Adam Schiff may have more power than anyone else to get the most out of that Mueller inquiry and get the most transparency. So I think, intriguingly, the most sensitive part of the case may be the way Congress gets the most insight into it.
When Schiff says he will bring Mueller to testify, I'm guessing that this is what he's talking about. It might take place behind closed doors because the counterintelligence report is likely to contain classified information. But if Mueller is clever and Schiff is agile, they should be able to create a narrative that can be shared with the public about what happened (and is still happening) that is not subject to Department of Justice restrictions. This evidence will definitely inform the House leadership's decision on impeachment. Who knows, it might even be enough to move and a few Republicans to do their duty.