Though it was easy to dismiss rumors earlier this week that Robert Mueller was about turn over a report to new Attorney General William Barr, those rumors just keep coming. And they’re looking increasingly un-rumor-like. CNN is now reporting that Barr is preparing to speak to Congress as early as Feb. 25, at which time he will announce an end to the Russia investigation.
On the one hand, this seems impossible. Not only does the special counsel’s office have half a hundred threads still unresolved, but the office is actually before the Supreme Court right now to force testimony by that mystery foreign company. Michael Flynn has not been sentenced. Roger Stone’s case is barely underway. Nothing has come of the information on the Moscow Project, no indictments have resulted from the sweetheart deal given Flynn … this simply can’t be the end. An announcement that the Russia investigation “is over” clearly makes no sense. Because it’s not over. So what could this possibly mean?
The Intermedio: Barr reports that Mueller has issued an interim report?
A number of rumors have suggested that the special counsel’s office was going to produce an “interim report,” perhaps one dealing with just the collusion aspect. But there are several problems with that idea. First, neither special counsels or special investigators have produced such reports in the past. Yes, they’ve turned over reports to the Justice Department and then spent literally years nailing down all the details and turning off the lights, but they’ve never turned in a report, then gone on to do something else significant. Based on past experience, if it’s over, it’s over. And Mueller has demonstrated a strong dedication to following department rules and guidelines.
The Semisonic*: The investigation ends because Barr shuts it down?
That this action is happening one week after William Barr settled in at the DOJ cannot be coincidence. One possibility is that, while Matthew Whitaker wrote public articles on how to shut down the Mueller investigation, it took someone with the gravitas of Barr to pull the switch. It could be over … because Barr says it’s over.
The Dr. Livingstone, I Presume: Mueller was waiting for Barr all along.
The shiny flip side of the idea that Barr shut down the investigation could be that the investigation was waiting for Barr. Mueller knows Barr, and there seems to be a cord of mutual respect. If Mueller had something ready to go, maybe he was waiting for Barr to take a seat. Only … that still doesn’t explain why there are so many irons still in the fire. It seems unlikely that Mueller would go through the motions of investigating if he were really done.
The Force Awakens: Barr announces a new phase of the investigation?
Barr has made a big deal about transparency. He could come to the Congress to announce what Rod Rosenstein did not: that Mueller’s investigation has moved into new areas beyond just the relationship of the campaign to the Russian government. But that would not seem to match the news that’s percolating that this is going to mark an “end” to the investigation.
The Direct to DVD: Barr severely cut back the investigation’s’ scope?
Though he didn’t write the encyclopedic tome on how to sabotage Mueller that Whitaker produced, Barr did take time as a private citizen to write to the Justice Department and let it know that concerns about Donald Trump obstructing justice were, in his mind, a no-no. It’s possible that Barr immediately dispatched to Mueller a note that said he could look at A, B, and C. Or just A. But no more. All the things Mueller was still working on could simply be outside of the new, reduced scope set by Barr.
The Dr. Strangelove: Barr exercises the nuclear option?
Barr could have walked in the door, thumbed through some papers, and declared himself on team Devin Nunes, Lindsay Graham, and Sean Hannity—that is, he could have decided that former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe acted improperly in investigating Trump, and that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein didn’t follow the rules in appointing a special counsel. In that circumstance, Barr might not be announcing any kind of report at all. He could just be announcing that the Mueller investigation is over. Over over. Go home, Roger Stone, all is forgiven.
Is that worst-case scenario likely? It certainly would not seem so. Not only has Barr voiced support for Mueller, but an attempt to end the investigation at this point would seem politically untenable, even for Shoot ‘em on Fifth Avenue Trump. But if the Russia investigation is genuinely going to end next week, end as in Mueller shakes hands all around and leaves the building, that would seem to be a guarantee that, after all this time, the results of the investigation are really no results at all. As so many on the right have said, Mueller collected a handful of “process crimes”—plus what Paul Manafort did, which was everything—and walked away. But that also seems incredibly unlikely.
The most likely scenario is this one:
The Yogi Berra: The Russia investigation will not end next week.
Barr may announce something. He may take it on himself to even give insight into some facet of the Mueller investigation. He may announce that there was “no collusion” or there was collusion, or that the sun rises in the east. Maybe there’s some nugget of information that Mueller really feels needs to be public now that Barr will bring before the microphones. And the investigation continues. Let’s hope that it does. Because if the investigation ends next week, it’s hard to see how that’s anything but astoundingly good news for Donald Trump.
*And yes, that’s a joke about the song “Closing Time”