Last week, President Donald Trump's acting attorney general suggested that special counsel Robert Mueller could be close to wrapping up his final report. As the special counsel finishes his investigation, many are wondering whether the Mueller report will be made public. President Trump, for his part, says he's not yet sure if he thinks the document should be released to the public.
The special counsel has been investigating potential Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, along with allegations of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, since May 2017. Notably, President Trump has repeatedly denied any allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia. "[T]he entire thing [the special counsel's investigation] has been a witch hunt," the president said during a CNN interview in May 2017. "And there is no collusion between, certainly, myself and my campaign, but I can only speak for myself and the Russians—zero."
During a Face the Nation interview that aired on Sunday, Trump reflected on whether he'd be okay with Mueller's report becoming public once it's completed. Host Margaret Brennan pointedly asked the president if he would have a problem with a public release — and President Trump emphasized that he hasn't decided yet.
As Trump asserted via CBS:
That's totally up to to the attorney general. I don't know. It depends. I have no idea what it's going to say. So far this thing [the special counsel's investigation]'s been a total witch hunt ... And it doesn't implicate me in any way. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no nothing. Doesn't implicate me in any way, but I think it's a disgrace.
As NPR reported, it is generally up to the attorney general to decide whether to release some (or all) of the report's contents to the public. Indeed, the outlet noted that regulations that guide the special counsel's work indicate that Mueller must submit a confidential report to the attorney general, who will then decide "if releasing some information would be in the public interest." Currently, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is overseeing the special counsel's investigation. If he's confirmed, Trump's current attorney general nominee, William Barr, would assume oversight of the investigation, CNN reported.
At his Jan. 15 confirmation hearing, Barr suggested that it's possible that Mueller's full report might not be made public. "Under the current regulations, the special counsel report is confidential, and the report that goes public would be a report by the attorney general," Barr told the Senate (via NBC). An official at the Department of Justice also told the outlet that a publicly-available copy of Mueller's report could consist of a redacted version of the special counsel's report or an overview provided by the attorney general.
Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, indicated in a New Yorker interview in September 2018 that the president's administration might object to a public release of parts of the report that it considers protected by executive privilege. As NPR noted, executive privilege essentially implies that a president has a right to withhold certain information in order to do their job effectively. The outlet added that executive privilege is not a constitutionally-given power, but past presidents have argued that the notion is implicit in the Constitution.
Time will soon tell whether the attorney general decides to release Mueller's final report — and whether the president or Congress will raise objections to his decision. Indeed, as Politico noted, the House could opt to subpoena the report if it's not released. Whatever happens, many Americans will likely be watching closely as the special counsel wraps up his lengthy investigation.