WASHINGTON – Justice Department officials are preparing for the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and believe a confidential report could be issued in coming days, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The special counsel’s investigation has consumed Washington since it began in May 2017, and it increasingly appears to be nearing its end, which would send fresh shock waves through the political system. Mueller could deliver his report to Attorney General William Barr next week, according to a person familiar with the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Regulations call for Mueller to submit to the attorney general a confidential explanation as to why he decided to charge certain individuals, as well as who else he investigated and why he decided not to charge those people. The regulations then call for the attorney general to report to Congress about the investigation.
An adviser to President Donald Trump said there is palpable concern among the president’s inner circle that the report might contain information about Trump and his team that is politically damaging, but not criminal conduct.
Even before he was confirmed by the Senate, Barr had preliminary discussions about the logistics surrounding the conclusion of Mueller’s inquiry, a second person said. At that time, though, Barr had not been briefed on the substance of Mueller’s investigation, so the conversations were limited.
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment, as did a Justice Department spokeswoman.
How detailed either Mueller’s report or the attorney general’s summary of the findings will be is unclear. Lawmakers have demanded that Mueller’s report be made public, but Barr has been noncommittal on that point, saying he intends to be as forthcoming as regulations and department practice allow. He has pointed, however, to Justice Department practices that insist on saying little or nothing about conduct that does not lead to criminal charges.
The special counsel’s office, which used to have 17 lawyers, is down to 12, and some of those attorneys have recently been in touch with their old bosses about returning to work, according to people familiar with the discussions. All but four of the remaining 12 lawyers are detailed from other Justice Department offices.
The end of the special counsel’s probe would not mean the end of criminal investigations connected to the president. Federal prosecutors in New York, for instance, are exploring whether corrupt payments were made in connection with Trump’s inaugural committee funding.
If Mueller does close up shop, government lawyers on his team would likely return to their original posts but would be able to continue to work on the prosecution of cases initiated by the special counsel’s office.
That was the case for two special counsel lawyers, Brandon Van Grack and Scott Meisler, who have left the office formally but are still working on cases begun by Mueller.
When the special counsel brought the case against Roger Stone, a longtime adviser and friend to Trump, for lying to the FBI, attorneys from the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington were assigned to it from the start — an indication that Mueller expects to hand off the investigation soon.
According to people familiar with the special counsel’s work, Mueller has envisioned it as an investigative assignment, not necessarily a prosecutorial one, and for that reason does not plan to keep the office running to see to the end all of the indictments it has filed.
Mueller’s work has led to criminal charges against 34 people. Six Trump associates and advisers have pleaded guilty.
Among those who have pleaded guilty are Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn; former personal attorney Michael Cohen; former campaign chairman Paul Manafort; former deputy campaign manger Rick Gates; and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
Most of the people charged in Mueller’s investigation are Russians. Because there is no extradition treaty with their country, those 26 individuals are unlikely to ever see the inside of a U.S. courtroom.