On Wednesday afternoon, Donald Trump seemed to endorse the idea of releasing any final report from special counsel Robert Mueller to the public, saying “Let the people see it” and declaring that he had already told House Republicans, “If you want, let them see it.” But while Trump’s apparent signal to release the report may be in the headlines, those phrases were just part of a statement that was a lot less than it seemed on the surface.
Immediately following the often-headlined “Let the people see it,” Trump said something quite different: “That’s up to the attorney general.” And as the New York Times notes, the law does not require the Justice Department to provide either Congress or the public with a copy of the document provided by the special counsel.
It’s easy for Trump to feel comfortable about throwing decisions on the report over to Attorney General William Barr, because Barr has already made clear his positions. During his confirmation hearings, Barr was definitive in naming any report emerging from the investigation as a “confidential document.” He followed this by stating that he would follow “reporting requirements” under law. Which are few. Barr must notify the chairmen of the appropriate committees in the House and Senate that the investigation is complete. And … that’s it.
Anything else is an option strictly left up to Barr. In the same hearing, Barr stated that he would not release parts of the report that he felt were not in “the public’s interest” or that failed to “comply with applicable legal restrictions.” Finally, Barr made it clear that he was a believer in the Justice Department policy of making no statements in a public document about someone who was not under indictment. Barr was definitive in saying that he would not release information without “protecting the interests of uncharged third parties.” And since the Department of Justice doesn’t believe in indicting a sitting executive, one of those uncharged third parties is certain to be Donald Trump.
Trump didn’t say he would release the report. He said he would leave it up to Barr. Which is the same thing as saying he will not release the report.
While any external report from Barr is almost certain to be restricted to descriptions of indictments and the decisions that led up to them, the internal report provided by Robert Mueller should also include investigations of facts that didn’t led to indictment. That would include leads that simply failed to pan out, or legitimate crimes for which the investigators were unable to collect sufficient evidence to support an indictment before the grand jury. And it should include Trump, including any crimes committed either in his business dealings or his campaign.
But, like two pairs of polarized sunglasses stacked on top of each other, Trump is protected by twin filters that are guaranteed to block all the light. In following DOJ rules, Mueller will not indict Trump. And in following the rules, Barr will not release information connected to anyone unindicted. Both Democrats and Republicans in the House may have passed a resolution to release the full report delivered to Barr, but that resolution was non-binding—and blocked in the Senate by man voted most likely to betray his best friend, Lindsey Graham. It obligates Barr to do exactly nothing.
Which is why Trump feels so free to claim he gave Republicans the go ahead on their vote. As Trump himself said “It makes us look good,” but it doesn’t mean anything.
A CNN poll found that 87 percent of Americans want the full results from Mueller to be made public. However, Trump is making no such commitment.
He could. Rather than saying that he was going to leave it up to William Barr, Trump could resolve the issue by simply ordering Barr to pass the full report on to Congress and the public. But he hasn’t done that. He won’t do that.
On the same afternoon that Trump made claims being paraded as a call to release the report, he returned to attacking the whole process, saying that there should never have been an investigation or a special counsel. On the White House law, he told reporters that the report was “ridiculous” and that after his “tremendous” victory at the electoral college, he should have to be concerned about “A man, out of the blue,” who “just writes a report.”
Of course, Trump followed up by saying that there was no collusion, and that the report would say that … or, it would if it was “legitimate.” In other words, Trump would accept the conclusions of the report—so long as it exonerates him. If not, it’s fake news.
But what is fake news, is any headline proclaiming that Trump said the report should be public.