Attorney General William P. Barr has to decide how much to tell Congress or the public now that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has turned in the final report of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Under Justice Department regulations, Barr can decide that public interest demands full disclosure, or he can hew to rules that protect privacy for people who are investigated and not charged. Although Barr has the authority, President Trump, his lawyers and congressional Democrats will also join the fight over transparency or privacy.

Some past investigations of whether presidents or top officials broke the law led to public reports revealing every little detail. The Starr Report on Whitewater and President Bill Clinton’s sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky was a best-selling book. Other cases led to convictions but kept the rest of the findings under wraps.

What will happen to Mueller’s report?

The rules under which Mueller was appointed require certain disclosures and allow even more.

Mueller has already demonstrated the first way to publicize his findings: by filing charges in federal court. The indictments and pleas have laid out details of what Mueller found involving Russian activity, lies about contacts with Russians and more. The work has led to criminal charges against 34 people, including six former Trump associates and advisers. Mueller’s work has also spawned cases that are being pursued in other jurisdictions.

Robert S. Mueller

Special Counsel

Indictments

and additional

pleas

PUBLIC

Robert S. Mueller

Special Counsel

Indictments and

additional pleas

PUBLIC

Robert S. Mueller

Special Counsel

Indictments and

additional pleas

PUBLIC

Mueller has now given Barr the official “confidential report” that he is required to submit at the end of his work. That report must spell out the cases he prosecuted and the people he decided not to prosecute. The rules do not say whether this report has to be short or long. It was Mueller’s choice. But the rules seem to preclude him from publishing his own book of findings like those published from the work of independent counsel Kenneth Starr in the Clinton era.

Confidential report

William P. Barr

Attorney General

RELEASE TO

THE PUBLIC

KEEP PRIVATE

While the rules allow him to release it, they specifically cite Department of Justice policy that generally says prosecutors should not talk about people who are investigated but not charged to protect them from having their reputations smeared. During Barr’s confirmation hearing, Democrats in Congress pushed him to commit to release the full report, but he repeatedly declined to do so.

Barr can decide that releasing Mueller’s report “would be in the public interest” and share it.

Confidential report

William P. Barr

Attorney General

KEEP PRIVATE

RELEASE TO THE PUBLIC

While the rules allow him to release it, they specifically cite Department of Justice policy that generally says prosecutors should not talk about people who are investigated but not charged to protect them from having their reputations smeared. During Barr’s confirmation hearing, Democrats in Congress pushed him to commit to release the full report, but he repeatedly declined to do so.

Barr can decide that releasing Mueller’s report “would be in the public interest” and share it.

Confidential report

William P. Barr

Attorney General

KEEP PRIVATE

RELEASE TO THE PUBLIC

Barr can decide that releasing Mueller’s report “would be in the public interest” and share it.

While the rules allow him to release it, they specifically cite Department of Justice policy that generally says prosecutors should not talk about people who are investigated but not charged to protect them from having their reputations smeared. During Barr’s confirmation hearing, Democrats in Congress pushed him to commit to release the full report, but he repeatedly declined to do so.

Justice Department policy also holds that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Evidence about Trump could be included in the confidential report to the attorney general but may not be made public.

That’s the tension between transparency and protecting people’s reputations. Post-Watergate rules for independent counsels in the 1980s and 1990s favored the public report. But that law lapsed in 1999, and Justice Department confidentiality rules now prevail. The rules make it a judgment call for Barr to release the report publicly or not, putting him at the center of the fight between Trump, Trump’s lawyers, other supporters and critics of the president.

Barr’s notification to Congress on Friday said that he would decide to release information "consistent with the law, including the Special Counsel regulations, and the Department’s long-standing practices and policies.”

The attorney general is required to make his own report to the chairman and ranking member of the Judiciary Committees in the House and Senate.

William P. Barr

Attorney General

Attorney general’s

report to Congress

Senate

Judiciary Committee

Chairman and

ranking members

House

Judiciary Committee

Chairman and

ranking members

Jerrold

Nadler (D-N.Y.)

Chairman

Lindsey O.

Graham (R-S.C.)

Chairman

William P. Barr

Attorney General

Attorney general’s

report to Congress

Senate

Judiciary Committee

Chairman and

ranking members

House

Judiciary Committee

Chairman and

ranking members

Jerrold

Nadler (D-N.Y.)

Chairman

Lindsey O.

Graham (R-S.C.)

Chairman

William P. Barr

Attorney General

Attorney general’s

report to Congress

Senate Judiciary Committee

Chairman and ranking members

House Judiciary Committee

Chairman and ranking members

Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.)

Chairman

Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)

Chairman

To keep an attorney general from quietly snuffing out a special counsel investigation, the attorney general must explain any cases in which he stopped the special counsel from taking action because it was “so inappropriate or unwarranted” that it could not be allowed. If Mueller wanted to charge someone and the attorney general forbade it, that action would have to be revealed to Congress. Barr’s letter to congressional leaders Friday said he had not blocked Mueller from taking any actions. Nothing in the rules requires the revelations to Congress to be confidential. Nor do they say whether that report must be short or long. So Barr must make a report and, once again, can decide how detailed it should be. He said he may decide as soon as this weekend.

If they are not satisfied that the full story has been released, congressional Democrats have said they will fight to get it. They may try to subpoena the report and have Mueller testify in committee.

The conflict over privacy and openness at the end of an investigation came to a head when then-FBI Director James B. Comey publicly announced in July 2016 that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton had been “extremely careless” in handling classified information on her private email server but that she would not be charged. He later told the Justice Department inspector general that “unusual transparency … was necessary for an unprecedented situation.” He subsequently testified before Congress about the investigation and made additional comments when it was briefly reopened shortly before Election Day.

Comey’s attempted solution to the conflict led him to be condemned by Clinton. And Trump. And their supporters. And the Justice Department inspector general.

Barr may be facing an even greater trial.

Ann Gerhart, Chiqui Esteban and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

Read more:

What we’ve learned about Trumpworld outreach to Russia

The many contradictions in Trump’s relationship with Russia

Russians approached at least 14 people in Trump’s orbit during the campaign and presidential transition. Coincidence or coordination?