The writer served as deputy attorney general from January 2015 to January 2017.
America’s justice system is built upon one thing — truth. When witnesses give testimony, they are sworn to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” The word “verdict” derives from the Latin term “veredictum,” meaning “to say the truth.” Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, a public servant with impeccable integrity, was entrusted to find the truth regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election and has spoken through a comprehensive report that details the facts that he uncovered.
Yet a week after Mueller issued his report, we don’t know those facts and have only been provided with Attorney General William P. Barr’s four-page summary of Mueller’s estimated 400-page report. It is time for the American people to hear the whole truth. We need to see the report itself.
First, as the attorney general’s letter to Congress notes, the Mueller report “outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts.” Congress has a solemn responsibility to protect our democracy. Without access to the full factual record of what the special counsel uncovered, it cannot fulfill that mandate. As you read this, the Russian government is undoubtedly hard at work to undermine our next election. Each day that passes without Congress having access to the full Mueller report is a day that Congress is prevented from doing its job of keeping our elections free from Russian espionage efforts.
Second, Barr’s letter leaves important questions unanswered concerning what then-candidate Donald Trump and his associates knew about Russian interference, and how they responded to Russian overtures to assist the campaign. While Barr’s letter states that the investigation did not establish that the campaign reached an agreement with the Russian government to take actions to impact the election in Trump’s favor, it reveals that the campaign did field “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.” Yet President Trump and others have repeatedly claimed that they had no contact with Russians, or knowledge that Russians were acting to assist his campaign. Moreover, the Trump campaign did not bring the Russian outreach to the attention of law enforcement but secretly allowed a foreign adversary’s assistance. Remarkably, after the release of the Barr letter — which makes it undeniable that the Russians were seeking to help the Trump campaign — the president still denies it. Why? Why was the Trump campaign willing to allow the help of one of the country’s foremost geopolitical adversaries rather than report the overtures to law enforcement? And, as importantly, does the role that the Russians played in his election have any bearing on Trump’s current approach toward Russia? Only by seeing the full Mueller report can Congress and the American people make an informed assessment.
Third, until the Mueller report is released by the attorney general, Congress and the American people will not be able to evaluate the president’s conduct with respect to obstruction of justice. Existing Justice Department policy prevents the criminal prosecution of a sitting president. The department’s institutional view is that a congressional hearing room, not a federal courtroom, is the proper forum for the evaluation of presidential misconduct. According to Barr’s letter, the Mueller report details evidence of potentially obstructive conduct, but it does not reveal what that evidence comprises. Until Congress is provided the full report, it cannot evaluate the seriousness of the evidence. And we, the American people, cannot make our own evaluation.
Barr has indicated that he will provide Congress a redacted version of the report within weeks. There are legitimate reasons to make narrow redactions to the report provided to Congress. For example, testimony before the grand jury, as well as classified information that the intelligence community believes should remain classified, should not be provided in a report that will ultimately be made public. But the attorney general has great discretion in determining how these exceptions are defined and what information is excluded. The Justice Department should expeditiously provide to Congress a redacted version of the report that identifies the basis for each redaction, and those redactions should be drawn as narrowly as possible. The redacted report should clearly identify whether the president is seeking to shield information from disclosure based upon an assertion of executive privilege, and redactions to withhold information that is deemed merely “sensitive” should not be accepted without clear justification.
Barr has correctly noted that this is a matter of significant public interest. Indeed, the investigation was not about some tangential issue. It was about a foreign adversary’s attempt to subvert our election; it cuts to the very core of our democracy. It is absolutely essential that our country move forward with a common set of facts. And regardless of whether those facts comport with one’s political preferences, we should all be willing to accept the facts, whatever they may be. The American people need to know what happened. We can handle the truth.