When Mueller files report Congress must finish the job
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report is expected soon but what remains up in the air is how much of that report will ever make its way to the public. | Evan Vucci/AP

WASHINGTON—With Special Counsel Robert Mueller apparently ready to send his report to the Justice Department on the multitude of crimes involving Donald Trump’s of collusion and obstruction of justice, the onus will shift to Congress on whether – and how much – of Mueller’s two-year probe’s findings to disclose.

But even as lawmakers wrestle and get into partisan battles over the issue of Russian disruption of the 2016 election process, the Mueller report may not be the last word on the misdeeds of then-candidate, now-GOP President Trump.

That’s because the House will continue its own investigation of the president. The Center for American Progress (CAP), a think-tank, has decided to – in the old Watergate phrase – “follow the money” and issued its own detailed study on Trump financial deals.

News reports indicate Mueller will send his report soon to new Attorney General William Barr, possibly in the last week of February. Barr gets to decide how much, or how little, to make public. Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway and former Trump White House Counsel John Dowd are already predicting Barr’s answer will be “zero.”

That outcome is because Barr is Mueller’s boss. In legal terms, Mueller isn’t independent of the Justice Department. The Special Counsel, unlike Special Prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski of Watergate days 45 years ago, reports only to the Attorney General, not to Congress and not to federal courts. If he wants to, DOJ’s Barr can sit on Mueller’s report, except for a brief summary.

By contrast, Jaworski turned over a briefcase full of reports, documents, supporting evidence and grand jury testimony to U.S. District Judge John Sirica. He relayed it, plus the grand jury’s conclusion that in Watergate, Richard Nixon was “an unindicted co-conspirator,” to the House Judiciary Committee. Jaworski’s papers played a key role in the panel’s pro-impeachment decisions.

One constitutional commentator likens Cohen’s upcoming “singing” about Trump, in both scope and specificity, to the enormous details fired White House Counsel John Dean provided about Nixon.

But what 35 indictments of Trump operatives, almost half a dozen convictions or guilty pleas, evidence released during court hearings and the upcoming testimony from Trump’s lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen already show is the constitutional crimes of the Trump campaign may well dwarf those of Watergate.

There are differences. Nixon undermined the Constitution while rigging the 1972 election by destroying his political foes. But ultimately, his plot failed and he got caught. Trump and his operatives undermined the Constitution by aiding and abetting the destruction of the 2016 election initiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin and Trump succeeded and then there is the issue of violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution which forbids a president from profiting financially from his actions as president.

Mueller’s report is expected to shine a light on details of that success. Meanwhile, the other probers plan to continue to dig, even if Barr buries Mueller’s findings.

Another difference is that Mueller can – and has – indicted top Trump operatives, including Cohen and former Trump campaign chairmen Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. Congress can’t indict people. It can impeach Trump. If he’s convicted, and it takes a two-thirds Senate majority to do that, prosecutors can then indict him, the Constitution says.

But Congress can, and will, shine a light on what Trump did, new House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., promises. And in its own probe, CAP laid out the Trump-Russia money trail.

It includes $1 million a month in Russian cyber-espionage spending, meetings between top Trump operatives and Russian oligarchs and Putin allies over a potential Trump hotel in Moscow, and a post-election transfer of $20 million by a Russian oligarch to a U.S. bank account, after the oligarch met Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner.

“While Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues his investigation into whether there were ‘any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the [Trump] campaign,’ and whether any crimes were committed in connection with, or arising from, that investigation, the committee must fulfill its responsibility to provide the American people with a comprehensive accounting of what happened, and what the United States must do to protect itself from future interference and malign influence operations,” Schiff said at the panel’s organizational meeting in early February.

“During the prior Congress, the committee began to pursue credible reports of money laundering and financial compromise related to the business interests of President Trump, his family, and his associates. The president’s actions and posture towards Russia during the campaign, transition, and administration have only heightened fears of foreign financial or other leverage over President Trump and underscore the need to determine whether he or those in his administration have acted in service of foreign interests since taking office,” Schiff added.

The Intelligence panel will have “five interconnected lines of inquiry,” which until now have been incompletely examined or not probed at all, he explained.

One is the scope and scale of Russian interference in the election, and what the U.S. government did – or didn’t – do about it. A second is “the extent of any links and/or coordination between the Russian government, or related foreign actors, and individuals associated with Donald Trump’s campaign, transition, administration, or business interests, in furtherance of the Russian government’s interests.”

Another panel probe will see if “any foreign actor…holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates.” Associated with that is to see if Trump, his family, and his associates were “vulnerable to foreign exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure or coercion, or have sought to influence U.S. government policy in service of foreign interests.”

The final prong of the panel’s probe will focus on potential obstruction of justice and obstruction of Congress. Those crimes were among the impeachable offenses lodged against Nixon, too.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.