WASHINGTON – Occasionally, his signature appears on court documents. But on the most consequential days of the nearly two-year investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the man leading it – Robert Mueller – has been conspicuously absent.
When President Donald Trump’s senior aides and confidants paraded through federal courtrooms to face criminal charges his office had filed, the former FBI director was nowhere to be seen. When some of them came back to court to be convicted, he said nothing.
It’s possible he never will.
Mueller’s investigation has cast a shadow over nearly all of the first two years of Trump’s presidency. Prosecutors working to determine whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russian efforts to sway the election that put him in office have brought charges against some of his top aides and revealed extensive Moscow ties. But as the inquiry grinds closer to its conclusion, there are signs that the public might never learn the full extent of what Mueller has – or hasn’t – found.
Justice Department rules require that Mueller submit a confidential report when his work is done. William Barr, the man likely to be confirmed as his next boss, has cast doubt on whether he would permit that document to be revealed. And those who know him say Mueller, reluctant to speak publicly even when the circumstances seem to require it, is unlikely to do it on his own.
“A public narrative has built an expectation that the special counsel will explain his conclusions, but I think that expectation may be seriously misplaced,” said John Pistole, who served as Mueller’s longtime top deputy at the FBI. “That’s not what the rules provide, and I really don’t see him straying from the mission. That’s not who he is.”
The Justice Department’s special counsel rules don’t call for Mueller to make any public statements about his work, let alone deliver a report of what he has found. Instead, his confidential report must explain why he filed the charges he did, and why he might have declined to bring charges against others. It would be up to the attorney general to decide whether that becomes public.
Barr, who is widely expected to be confirmed this month as attorney general, told lawmakers he couldn’t commit to releasing Mueller’s report in full. Neither was he clear on whether he would permit Mueller to testify to Congress about his work. He said he wanted to be transparent about Mueller’s findings, but offered few details.