IN FRIDAY testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker insisted that he has not tried to stymie the Justice Department’s Russia probe and has not discussed it with the White House. But one question remains open: What will happen once special counsel Robert S. Mueller III wraps up his investigation and submits a report to Justice Department leaders, whether Mr. Whitaker or William P. Barr, the man President Trump nominated to be the next attorney general, is in charge?
Mr. Trump has been clear about his hostility to Mr. Mueller and his “witch hunt” investigation, leading to concern that the president’s Justice Department appointees will suppress the public release of Mr. Mueller’s findings. In his confirmation hearings, Mr. Barr expressed support for Mr. Mueller, insisted he would carefully follow department rules and promised he would err on the side of transparency when it came to deciding how much of the special counsel’s findings to release publicly. Given department guidelines, that was about as much as he could reasonably say.
But at the end of this process, there must be no doubt that the public will hear from the special counsel — no possibility that presidential pressure or some other consideration will lead Justice Department leaders to keep relevant information from Congress and Americans at large. The Mueller probe is not just another criminal investigation. It is also an inquiry into a foreign attack on the nation’s democratic system, the details of which are the public’s to know, and an inquest into official malfeasance at some of the highest levels of government. If the air can be cleared, it must be.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced a bill last month that would require public disclosures from Mr. Mueller and every other subsequent special counsel. The Special Counsel Transparency Act would demand “a report to Congress at the conclusion of an investigation or within two weeks of a removal, transfer, or resignation.” That report would have to include “all factual findings and underlying evidence.”
To be clear, not every potentially unflattering detail Mr. Mueller dredges up needs to be on the record. But core conclusions and evidence must be. And because special counsel investigations are rare and involve serious questions of official wrongdoing, the public will have a similar interest in transparency in later special counsel probes, as well. The bill should pass — and quickly.