Trump won't commit to making the Mueller report public - but he can't hide it forever

trump muellerPresident Donald Trump won't commit to releasing the report to be written by Special Counsel Robert Mueller about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.Doug Mills/Pool via REUTERS; Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

  • When special counsel Robert Mueller finishes his investigation, he'll write a report to be sent to the attorney general.
  • But neither President Donald Trump nor his attorney general nominee, William Barr, have committed to making the full report public.
  • Even if the Trump administration tries to bury Mueller's report, there's a possible path for Democrats to make it public: win the presidency in 2020.

It has been reported that special counsel Robert Mueller may be close to finishing his investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. But after he files his report, President Donald Trump's administration might only make part of it available to Congress and the public, if they choose to release any of it at all.

However, even in the event Trump, his attorney general nominee William Barr, or Republicans in Congress try to bury Mueller's report, that doesn't mean it'll disappear into a black hole forever.

There's a way to make it public - and it all depends on who wins the 2020 presidential election.

The current rules leave it up to the Trump administration

The rules governing the special counsel's office offer a few ways to make Mueller's report public. Basically, Mueller will send "a confidential report" to the attorney general explaining his decisions to prosecute - or decline to prosecute - specific people.

The attorney general will then send his own report to the chairman and ranking minority member of the judiciary committees in the Senate and House of Representatives, describing the special counsel's actions and his views on them. The attorney general could also choose to make Mueller's report public, with retractions if needed. And Trump, as president, could declassify whatever he wants.

william barr 2Attorney General nominee William Barr pauses while testifying during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

But Trump frequently says he views Mueller's investigation as illegitimate and has refused to commit to making the results public.

During Barr's Senate confirmation hearings, the attorney general nominee pledged to "provide as much transparency as I can," but stopped short of making a commitment to releasing the report in its entirety. Months earlier, Barr had called parts of Mueller's probe "legally insupportable."

Read more: Trump's attorney general pick once sent an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department calling Mueller's obstruction probe 'legally insupportable'

Congress has a few options

Even if Barr doesn't send Congress a copy of Mueller's report, he'd need to tell lawmakers whether he overrules the special counsel on any particular matter, and he'd have to explain why. Mueller could theoretically force Barr's hand by, for example, by making him explain why it would be wrong to indict Trump.

And now that Democrats control the House of Representatives, they could subpoena the Department of Justice for a copy of Mueller's report. It could take a long time for that legal battle to come to a conclusion. The House could also subpoena Mueller and ask him to testify about his findings.

Robert MuellerRobert Mueller.Alex Wong/Getty Images

Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he would subpoena the Department of Justice if he didn't receive the full report, and that he would invite Mueller to testify. Republicans on the committee also support making the report public.

"Congress is likely to subpoena the report if the attorney general refuses to give it to Congress, and there could be an extensive political and legal fight over that subpoena," Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School, told INSIDER.

jerry nadlerRep. Jerry Nadler speaks with Reps Cedric Richmond, CBC and Judiciary Deomocrats by his side, as they introduced a resolution to censure President Donald Trump for what they called racist comments on Haiti, African Countries and El Salvador, on Capitol Hill, on Thursday, January 18, 2018.Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Mueller has support in the other chamber of Congress as well.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, and Charles Grassley, a Republican and the former chair of the Senate judiciary committee, introduced a bill that would guarantee every special counsel report would be released directly to Congress and the public. The bill effectively circumvents Barr's role in making the document public.

"A report would be required whenever a Special Counsel finishes the investigation, is fired, or resigns, assuring that the results cannot be sealed or selectively censored," Blumenthal said in a statement. "The public has a right and need to know the facts of such betrayals of public trust."

If a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020, they could make the report public themselves

If Trump's administration refuses to make Mueller's findings public, that doesn't mean his report disappears forever. It'll still be on file in the Justice Department.

And, as with any other Justice Department file, the president could simply choose to declassify it, or the attorney general can choose to make it public. If a Democrat wins the White House in 2020, the next president can make the report public as soon as they take office in January 2021.

"An attorney general in a future Democratic administration could release the report," Ohlin told INSIDER. "Also, if there are issues pertaining to classified information, a future Democratic president could declassify it."

Donald TrumpPresident Donald Trump speaks during a meeting about cutting business regulations in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, October 17, 2018.Saul Loeb/Getty Images

The possibility of seeing the report may only remain because Democrats won the House in the 2018 midterm election. If Republicans still maintained full control over the government, they could have buried Mueller's report forever.

"If Republicans still had control of both houses on Congress, they could take the drastic step, along with a Republican attorney general, of ordering all versions of the report destroyed," Ohlin told INSIDER. "But it's unlikely the same thing will happen to the Mueller report given that the Democrats are in control of the House now."

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