On Friday, Attorney General William P. Barr offered up just four paragraphs of explanation for what happens next with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on the Russia investigation. Here’s the section from his letter where he addresses that directly, to some extent:

I am reviewing the report and anticipate that I may be in a position to advise you of the Special Counsel’s principal conclusions as soon as this weekend.

Separately, I intend to consult with Deputy Attorney General [Rod J.] Rosenstein and Special Counsel Mueller to determine what other information from the report can be released to Congress and the public consistent with the law, including the Special Counsel regulations, and the Department’s long-standing practices and policies. I remain committed to as much transparency as possible, and I will keep you informed as to the status of my review.

The “you” is the leaders of the House and Senate judiciary committees, and Barr suggests they’ll be briefed rather quickly. Apparently it won’t be Saturday, but it could be Sunday.

The chief question from this is: What is a “principal conclusion”?

Barr has made clear that he sees himself as being constrained not just in what he can release publicly from the Mueller report but also in what he can tell Congress. There are Justice Department guidelines and federal laws designed to protect law enforcement from releasing derogatory information about people who aren’t being charged with crimes. In his testimony and since, Barr has said he will be as transparent as he can. But we don’t really know much beyond that about what he feels he’ll be able to share.

The phrase “principal conclusions” is not a legal term of art, so it carries no specific definition, and we don’t have much to judge it upon. But it does sound as if it should be more than brief explanations of who was and wasn’t charged. That has given those who argued for more disclosure hope that Congress, at the very least, will get some details about the biggest questions in the Mueller probe. Among them:

  • Was there a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia?
  • How extensive and successful was the Russian interference campaign in the 2016 elections?
  • Did President Trump obstruct justice?

This would be important, because Congress is the body charged with holding a president accountable, through possible impeachment proceedings. Given the Justice Department’s long-standing position that a sitting president can’t be indicted, there’s a potential Catch-22 situation if Barr were to decide not to share any incriminating information about the president that Congress would need to actually make its determinations.

But it’s also worth emphasizing that Barr’s characterization of “principal conclusions” could be read as being narrow. “Its main significance is its limitation — 'principal’ as in ‘not all,’ " said former top Justice Department aide Harry Litman, who is a Washington Post columnist.

That suggests that Barr may not go into detail — at least not yet — about some of the biggest questions. What did Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner talk about with that Russian banker? What exactly happened with Trump apparently asking then-FBI Director James B. Comey for leniency for former national security adviser Michael Flynn? Did the White House deliberately mislead or lie to the public about specific events? Etc. While these pieces of information could be used to explain principal conclusions, they aren’t principal conclusions in and of themselves.

And from there, there is the question about whether this is all Barr will share. Is this just a first step in disclosure, or is this all he feels he can provide? His letter doesn’t say. It’s possible he is trying to get the big stuff out of the way first and then could work toward decisions about what other information to share. That would certainly seem to require more than just two days of review over a weekend.

In short, as with almost all things in the Mueller probe thus far, we’re left with a limited amount of words and a whole lot of unknowns.

“I take it just in the plain-English sense of the term to mean major findings,” former federal prosecutor Elie Honig said about “principal conclusions.” “As to what those might be, I don’t think anybody can know at this point.”