I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from the WUTP Chicago bureau. It’s Saturday, March 23, 2019. 318 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 592 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com.
Mueller ends Russia investigation, delivers final report to attorney general
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III concluded his nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election on Friday, submitting his final report to Attorney General William P. Barr and ending a probe that has loomed over Donald Trump's presidency almost since its outset.
Barr announced his receipt of the report in a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, telling lawmakers that he may be able to brief them on "the special counsel's principal conclusions as soon as this weekend." As required by law, the attorney general also affirmed in his letter that there were no instances during the special counsel's investigation where Mueller sought take actions that were denied by his managers at the Justice Department.
A senior Justice Department official told reporters from multiple news outlets Friday that Mueller would not recommend any further indictments, after speculation that he may file new charges at his inquiry's end. In total, Mueller's investigation lasted one year, 10 months, and six days; in that time, he indicted three companies and 34 people, and secured guilty pleas from seven others. Those accused of crimes by the special counsel included the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; former deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates; former national security adviser, Michael Flynn; former personal attorney, Michael Cohen; former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopolous; and longtime political adviser, Roger Stone.
All eyes are now on Attorney General Barr, who will decide how much of Mueller's report is shared with Congress and with the public. Barr wrote in his letter that he would consult with his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who first appointed Mueller in May 2017, and Mueller himself, to determine what information could be released. "I remain committed to as much transparency as possible, and I will keep you informed as the status of my review," he wrote.
Calls have already begun from members of Congress for the report to be released in its entirety. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a joint statement that "it is imperative for Mr. Barr to make the full report public and provide its underlying documentation and findings to Congress." The pair added: "The American people have a right to the truth. The watchword is transparency." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also called for "as much openness and transparency as possible" in a statement.
Within hours of the inquiry's conclusion, several Democratic presidential candidates had also called on Barr to release the full report. Some lawmakers went even further, with six House Democratic committee chairmen calling for the Justice Department to also hand over "the underlying evidence uncovered during the course of the special counsel's investigation" and other Democrats suggesting that Mueller would be called to testify before Congress.
"If necessary, we will call Bob Mueller or others before our committee," House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) told CNN, predicting that Barr would be called to testify before the House Judiciary Committee as well.
The House called on the attorney general to publicly release the special counsel's full findings in a 420-0 vote earlier this month. President Trump also said earlier this week that Barr should "let people see it" when asked what should become of Mueller's report.
Although he has frequently commented on Mueller's investigation throughout the past 22 months, Trump has yet to respond to its conclusion — on Twitter, or in brief remarks at a dinner at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, where he is spending the weekend surrounded by aides and lawyers. "The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted Friday. "The White House has not received or been briefed on the special counsel's report."
Trump's personal attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow said in a statement that they were "pleased" that Mueller had submitted his report.
While Mueller's investigation was closely-watched across the nation — including at the White House, where the president reportedly attempted to fire him at least twice, and called his probe a "witch hunt" 178 times — its termination does not spell the end of the legal exposure faced by Trump or his inner circle, who are also under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office in the southern district of New York, as well as by various congressional committees and state attorney general offices. These inquiries, some of which were spawned by Mueller's probe and referred to other Justice Department entities, include investigations into Trump's family business, inaugural committee, charity, and campaign.
But Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who has spent the past 675 days digging solely into Trump and Russia, is closing up shop after conducting one of the most consequential (and controversial) investigations in American political history. "The special counsel will be concluding his service in the coming days," Mueller's famously tight-lipped spokesman Peter Carr told Wake Up To Politics and other news outlets in a statement Friday. "A small number of staff will remain to assist in closing the operations of the office for a period of time."
Left: The order by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointing special counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017. (Read the next day's edition of Wake Up To Politics)
Right: The letter by Attorney General Bill Barr announcing the conclusion of Mueller's investigation on Friday.
Other breaking news on this Saturday morning:
ISIS: "U.S.-backed forces declared military victory over the Islamic State group in Syria on Saturday after liberating the last pocket of territory held by the militants, marking the end of a brutal self-styled caliphate the group carved out in large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014." (Associated Press)
North Korea sanctions: "President Trump undercut his own Treasury Department on Friday with a sudden announcement that he had rolled back newly imposed North Korea sanctions, appearing to overrule national security experts as a favor to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader."
"The move, announced on Twitter, was a remarkable display of dissension within the Trump administration. It created confusion at the highest levels of the federal government, just as the president’s aides were seeking to pressure North Korea into returning to negotiations over dismantling its nuclear weapons program." (New York Times)
Kushner records: "House Democrats are pressing the White House to turn over information and documents related to an investigation into whether some of President Trump's advisers, including daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, violated federal records law, threatening to take 'alternative means' if the administration does not comply."
"In a letter addressed to White House counsel Pat Cipollone on Thursday, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said the couple's attorney acknowledged they used personal email accounts to conduct official government business, with Kushner also communicating on the encrypted messaging app WhatsApp. The attorney, Abbe Lowell, disputed portions of Cummings' account in a subsequent letter Thursday afternoon."
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