Building upon rumors and other vague reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation may soon be coming to some sort of a close, CNN published a story Wednesday afternoon claiming that the Justice Department is preparing to receive a report from the former FBI director as early as next week.
Given the complexities of the case, the special counsel regulations, shake-ups in the Justice Department, and lack of clarity around reporting from anonymous sources, it was not initially clear what this story means. Some saw it as clear evidence that newly appointed Attorney General William Barr was working to shut down the investigation, while others argued that it reflected trends that have been clear in Mueller’s work for months. It’s also not clear if Mueller’s report means new charges could be coming or what would happen to pending cases.
But there is a lot we do know. Here are seven things to keep in mind to help make sense of this news:
1. Whatever happens next week or with Mueller, investigations of President Donald Trump are certain to continue.
Even if Mueller concluded that Trump was completely cleared of wrongdoing regarding the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and any efforts to obstruct this probe — the two prongs of the case believed to touch on the president — much more of Trump’s past is under scrutiny.
Mueller’s efforts, it seems, have led to at least two other investigations that directly implicate Trump. At this point, the public knows most about the case of Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance crimes as charged by the Southern District of New York — crimes that he alleged he carried out on Trump’s orders. There is also the ongoing investigation out of SDNY of Trump’s inaugural committee, about which less is known but which may involve allegations of money laundering and foreign influence peddling.
Other investigative matters may have also spun off from Mueller’s probe to other parts of the Justice Department. Federal prosecutors from D.C., for example, are already known to be working alongside Mueller’s team on some cases. And on completely separate tracks, the New York attorney general and oversight committees in the House of Representatives are known to be pursuing multiple investigations of Trump and those around him.
2. The regulations are clear about what the “Mueller report” is and isn’t.
If Mueller does issue a “report,” it’s not entirely clear what this means in common parlance. But according to the special counsel regulations, he is required to draft a confidential report on his decisions about why he chose to prosecute — and perhaps most importantly, not to prosecute — certain people for certain crimes. For instance, if Mueller concluded that there was substantial evidence to charge Trump himself with crimes, but decided not to because DOJ policy says he can’t indict a sitting president, this decision would presumably be recorded in this report.
But that report is not public. It goes to the attorney general who then makes the decision about what to do with. It likely would contain classified material and other information, such as grand jury testimony, which cannot be made public. The attorney general may then decide to make part of the report public, share it with Congress, or lock it away in a filing cabinet.
Also of note is that, since Barr has only just joined the Justice Department, he may not have yet been cleared by ethics officials to oversee Mueller. That may mean that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who first appointed Mueller, may still be in charge of the investigation.
3. Mueller is preparing to submit a sentencing filing on Paul Manafort soon — and it could be explosive.