Continuing a now time-honored tradition of creating explosive news late on a Friday afternoon, special counsel Robert Mueller has delivered his final report to attorney general William Barr. The Mueller probe, which began not quite two years ago, has come to its conclusion. Time for the fallout—whatever form that takes.
There are certain basic procedural facts that govern what happens next. The report that Mueller submitted to Barr is confidential; there’s no guarantee that the public will ever lay eyes on it. After reading Mueller’s findings, Barr will submit his own report to Congress, which could contain as much or as little information has he chooses. The only disclosure he’s required to make at this point: if the Justice Department stopped the special counsel from taking “inappropriate or unwarranted” action during the course of the investigation. Barr says that didn’t happen.
Beyond that, it’s still anybody’s guess what happens next.
At the very least, Barr has given a rough sense of timing as to his next steps. In a letter to the heads of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, sent at the end of the day on Friday, he suggested that he may be “in a position to advise you of the Special Counsel’s principal conclusions as soon as this weekend.” He also committed to working with both Mueller and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to determine exactly what information he can share.
From there, who can say! It’s unclear what information Mueller might have included in the report that’s not already public, much less what portion of that Barr might share. The only guarantee at this is that if he delivers anything less than the full report, Democrats will go to whatever lengths necessary to obtain it. “We look forward to getting the full Mueller report and related materials,” wrote House Judiciary chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NJ) on Twitter. “Transparency and the public interest demand nothing less. The need for public faith in the rule of law must be the priority.”
And that’s just one potential path. The Mueller report could lay out devastating, irrefutable evidence of crimes committed by Trump and his inner circle, or it could absolve them. It could spur Congress to finally impeach the president, or leave his critics wanting. Congress could drag Mueller in to testify, or they might not. More indictments could become unsealed, although early reports suggest otherwise. But anyone who says one way or the other about any of this, with any certainty, is slinging snake oil.
That’s the most important thing to remember, in the fervor of completion. No one other than William Barr knows more than they did yesterday. And the choices that lie ahead—for the attorney general, for Congress, for Trump, for citizens—are the ones that will define whether this story cracks the foundation of the US political and justice systems, or recedes into a footnote.
In truth, the safest thing to do in this moment is avoid speculation altogether. If there’s anything Mueller has taught us over these 22 months, it’s that he’s consistently further ahead than even the most vibrant imaginations have suspected. But that doesn’t mean he necessarily found a smoking gun, or that one existed to be found.
By that same token, don’t assume that the Mueller report will tell the whole story of alleged Trumpworld corruption. Remember that at least a dozen Trump-related investigations are ongoing outside of the special counsel’s office, flung across US Attorneys offices in the Southern District of New York, DC, and Virginia. Remember, too, that Mueller has already won two jury trials against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. More importantly, he’s produced hundreds upon hundreds of pages of legal documents that outline a clear pattern of duplicity that extends all the way from Moscow to the Trump Tower. If you’re looking to scratch your Mueller report itch, you can always read through those.
It’s been a long investigation. It’s natural to want to move on. But accept, at least for now, that you may never get to read the Mueller report, and that even if you do it may not say what you want, and that even if it does, the fights it will spark—no matter which way it lands—could take years to play out. The Mueller report is done. The hard part starts now.