Attorney General William Barr on Friday, March 22, 2019. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to presenting a report outlining the findings of his nearly two-year investigation (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
The pro-Trump spin machine is out on the airwaves, touting that the just-completed Mueller Report recommends no new indictments.
For ten briefly-stated reasons, the Mueller action marks more of a beginning, than an end, to the search for wrongdoing in the Russia scandal.
First, there are very active continuing investigations. When special counsels complete their reports of their principal findings, that does not end the inquiries. Instead, the tasks for prosecutors and investigators are turned over to the continuing active investigations. In this instance, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York has brought prosecutions already, like Michael Cohen’s, to build on. Matters within that U.S. Attorney’s broad jurisdiction will continue forward.
Second, it is pure spin to make the issue whether new indictments are in the report. Mueller may well think that the report should give an account of his findings. New indictments are not to be expected in a report on findings. Indictments come, when ready, from the grand jury, not in reports. Rather, indictments that are moving toward readiness would come out in the other investigations, like that of the SDNY.
Third, there is particular reason to expect evidence to come out about Trump and Russia. The former National Security Adviser, Michael T. Flynn, has pled to Mueller’s charges. But nothing further of what he knows has become public before now. There is every reason to expect that whatever limited Flynn evidence is revealed via Mueller’s report, there will be further evidence at the highest level as Flynn becomes a witness for more forums.
Fourth, there are a host of witnesses whose cooperation can be expected from the pressures built up from the investigations. An example is Allen Weisselberg, the corporate finance officer who carried out Trump’s instructions within the Trump Organization. In the immediate aftermath of Cohen’s testimony, it was clear than Weisselberg has not been cooperating, and that he knows an enormous amount of the wrongful things Trump ordered. The report by Mueller hardly marks an end for the pressure on Weisselberg to cooperate. That pressure will build both from prosecutors and from Congress.
Fifth, Barr has announced he will brief Congressional figures about the conclusions of the Mueller Report. But, if the Democratic leaders have any sense (and they do), they will ask for documents, not just briefings, be provided to their investigating committees. Barr will create some fog and confusion by providing relatively empty briefings. But, the press wants documents, and so indirectly does the public. Barr’s briefings will briefly stall the controversies but not forestall demands for hard evidence.
Sixth, House Democratic committees will pick up the relay baton at this point. The situation is radically different than last year, when House Republicans worked openly with the Trump White House. House Democratic Committees have the power of subpoenas to pick up where the Mueller report leaves off. They have many lines to pursue, from Trump’s relations with Deutsche Bank to what Trump’s income taxes reveal.
Seventh, Mueller himself may testify at hearings. This would electrify the country. No amount of spin by House Republicans could divert him from making the points he wants. It will matter very little on the day of Mueller’s testimony whether he left further indictments to other prosecutors. His actual findings will matter far more.
Eighth, this is the beginning, not the end, of evidentiary fights. It is quite possible that Attorney General Barr will provide briefings without documents, leaving out, for example, the key e-mail messages showing Trump falsified his family’s account about a meeting with Russians. On all sides it is expected that the Democratic House will seek those documents, and that the White House will assert executive privilege. Executive privilege is very reminiscent of what the Nixon White House asserted during Watergate.
Ninth, there have been many signs that Trump will use pardoning to ease the pressure on his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, facing two stretches in prison. The submission of the Mueller report clears the way for this. But, this would also elicit a public storm, and strengthen the case about obstruction of justice.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we are either at the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning. But the scandal is not done.