The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


First Impressions on the Mueller Investigation

The attorney general has released his summary of the report. Let the games begin.


Attorney General William Barr has now released his letter to Congress summarizing the contents of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report. Most of the report should be released publicly in due time, but presumably Barr has accurately sketched out its main features.

Although the special counsel's office was unusually resistant to leaks, it would appear that the main contours of the investigation and its findings have already found their way into the public record. There are no sealed or pending indictments. There are no new bombshells demonstrating collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents. There probably are no new revelations about the ways in which the president hampered the investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 election. We know most of what there is to know, and the appropriate political judgments have already been made. it seems unlikely that the release of the Mueller report will move the political needle very much in a way that damages the president's standing, and the close of the investigation probably has the effect of removing a shadow from the administration and thus improving his immediate political situation.

It is notable that the special counsel did not reach any legal conclusions about whether obstruction of justice charges would be appropriate, though the attorney general has concluded that such charges will not be forthcoming. Neither the special counsel nor the attorney general are hanging their hat on the constitutional concern that a sitting president cannot be indicted or the constitutional concern that the president's use of his Article II constitutional powers cannot be the basis of a criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice. Instead, they both seem to lean heavily on the view that if there is no underlying crime to be hidden then the president's actions to hamper the investigation could not have been made with corrupt intent. Others no doubt will come to a different conclusion on the issue of corrupt intent, but Mueller does not appear to be adding much new fuel to the fire for an impeachment inquiry.

Embarrassing, but unlikely to be job-threatening. I imagine we will all move on fairly quickly to arguing about emoluments, tax avoidance, and other fun topics.