UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. ...
Tom Williams

The longer the Mueller report is hidden, the bigger the political problem

It’s been five days since Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted his findings on the Russia scandal to the Justice Department, and if one looks past the triumphalism from Republicans and other White House allies, an awkward truth comes into focus: we know precious little about Mueller’s actual report.

To be sure, we know what Bill Barr, Donald Trump’s controversial attorney general, has summarized for us, but some skepticism is in order – not just because of his dubious credibility, but also because his vague and brief memo left countless questions unanswered.

Obviously, the public is going to need to see the actual Mueller report, not the Trump administration’s interpretation of it.

There’s evidence to suggest there’s already a public consensus on the subject: Quinnipiac released an interesting poll yesterday that found 84% of Americans believe the special counsel’s report should be made public. The survey results found support for disclosure across partisan, gender, education, age, and racial lines.

Will officials meet the public’s demands? NBC News reported yesterday that the attorney general will make “a version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report publicly available in weeks, not months.”

Part of the problem with this is that over the course of the upcoming “weeks,” the public will be led to believe the president has been fully exonerated, and that may be entirely at odds with Mueller’s actual findings.

Complicating matters is the phrase “a version” of the Mueller report. The New York Times reported:

…Mr. Mueller’s full report has yet to be released, and it remained unclear if it ever would be. House Democrats have demanded that it be sent to them by next Tuesday, but the Justice Department outlined a longer schedule, saying that it will have its own summary ready to send to lawmakers within weeks, though not months.

Wait, what do you mean “its own summary”?

If this reporting is correct, a challenging political dynamic is taking shape:

1. Mueller writes and submits a report on his findings after investigating Russia scandal.

2. Instead of releasing the report, the Trump administration issues a brief characterization of Mueller’s findings.

3. The White House seizes on the friendly summary to declare victory – and declare war on those who took the Russia scandal seriously.

4. The Trump administration plans to wait a few weeks, at which point it intends to release a second “summary.”

It’s only fair to note that the Mueller report may be everything Trump and his allies want it to be. Like you, I haven’t seen the document, and I’m not in a position to guess at its contents.

But the longer the Trump administration keeps the Mueller report hidden – while the president publicly mischaracterizes what we already know about the document he has not read – the louder critics will raise questions about why it must remain under wraps, and why the public should believe the White House’s dubious assertions about its contents.

Postscript: Law professor Orin Kerr raised a point last night that’s worth keeping in mind: “Imagine if the Starr Report had been provided only to President Clinton’s Attorney General, Janet Reno, who then read it privately and published a 4-page letter based on her private reading stating her conclusion that President Clinton committed no crimes.”