Robert Mueller, the special counsel who spent nearly two years investigating Donald Trump’s links to Russian interference in the 2016 US election, will be leaving the Department of Justice in the “coming days,” a spokesman said.
Mueller, who spent 674 days on the investigation before handing a 400 page report to attorney general William Barr, “will be concluding his service within the coming days,” DOJ spokesman Peter Carr told Quartz today. A “small staff remains to assist in closing the operations of the office,” Carr said. He said he didn’t have more information on what day, exactly, Mueller would depart, or whether his departure could coincide with Barr’s promise to distribute a redacted version of the report before mid-April.
Mueller, a long-time civil servant, was the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2001 to 2013; he left a private law firm to conduct the special investigation in May of 2017, after Trump abruptly fired FBI head James Comey. Carr, who served as the spokesman for the special counsel’s office since the beginning of the investigation, has returned to the department’s main Office of Public Affairs.
Even though Mueller’s departure is imminent, huge questions remain about what the investigation actually found. Barr’s four page summary of the report, made public March 24, has been criticized by Mueller associates as not accurately depicting the content of the report, and omitting “alarming” details that it unearthed, the Washington Post reports. The White House claims that the report “completely exonerates” Trump, despite the fact that Barr’s summary specifically quotes Mueller as writing “this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The House Judiciary Committee voted April 3 to authorize subpoenas for the full, unredacted report and its underlying evidence. Barr, and possibly Mueller, could be called to testify in front of the committee. In previous special investigations into US presidential misconduct, Congress ultimately got access to special prosecutors’ reports and the underlying information.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have blocked a measure to make the Mueller report public five times.
Will Mueller be able to talk after he exits?
As questions grow about what, exactly, the lengthy investigation uncovered about the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and how it could be prevented in 2020, there’s plenty of people asking: Why doesn’t Mueller just come out publicly and clear things up?
After all, former FBI officials including Comey and deputy director Andrew McCabe, who was fired days before his pension kicked in after a decades-long government career, embarked on media blitzes after their departures. They wrote books about their experience and talked them up to cable news networks and morning talk shows.
Even after Mueller departs the DOJ, he’s unlikely to launch into a round of interviews with news media on the investigation, or even the unique role he’s played in America’s democracy. First of all, that’s not his style, former colleagues told Quartz.
And while any contract Mueller signed with the Department of Justice to conduct the investigation is unlikely to have a specific non-disclosure agreement that prevents him from discussing the investigation publicly at all, he’s still ethically prohibited from divulging privileged information, such as information about the internal workings of the executive branch that is normally protected from disclosure by the common law principle known as “deliberative process privilege,” or anything that came from grand jury testimony. Carr didn’t respond to questions about Mueller’s plans after he departs, or whether he would be able to speak freely about the non-classified parts of the investigation.