Law and media figures churned and chummed today after CNN reported that the long-running Russiagate investigation may soon be drawing to a close, with a report possibly being completed “as early as next week.” One detail stood out: workers employed by special counsel Robert Mueller are reportedly packing up shop. Maybe even literally:
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) February 20, 2019
So, is the investigation coming to an end soon? And, if so, does the recent confirmation of Attorney General Bill Barr have anything to do with it? In other words: did President Donald Trump‘s Department of Justice (DOJ) put the screws to Mueller and his army of attorneys?
National security lawyer Bradley P. Moss reacted to the news by getting a shot in at Barr and his brief tenure at DOJ:
Barr has been there less than a week and already he is shutting down the probe? https://t.co/EYY1HeWtG1
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) February 20, 2019
CNN analysts Ross Garber and Asha Rangappa had a somewhat different take:
This is right. Mueller is thoughtful and systematic. If reports of a coming Mueller report are true, he and his team have been planning this for some time. https://t.co/A3IK94NGAC
— Ross Garber (@rossgarber) February 20, 2019
As none of this is actually coming from Mueller’s spokesperson Peter Carr, all we know for sure is that speculation follows even a hint of impropriety where Mueller’s investigation is concerned. In that spirit, Law&Crime reached out to a bevy of experts for their take.
Former New Jersey prosecutor, current defense attorney and Law&Crime Network host Bob Bianchi dismissed the idea that anything untoward was afoot.
“Wholly speculative and mostly probably inaccurate,” he said. “Barr isn’t going to put himself in that position. The Mueller investigation has been going full steam ahead and isn’t going to stop on a dime.”
Bianchi, noted that prior reporting has suggested Mueller was likely to submit a report sometime in or around February. The latest reports are “in line” with those earlier predictions, Bianchi said over the phone.
Julie Rendelman is also a former prosecutor who now works as a defense attorney and analyst on the Law&Crime network. In an email, she addressed the reported development in the Mueller probe:
Rumors had been swirling pre-Barr that the Mueller investigation was coming to an end. Did Barr nudge it along? Perhaps. In the end, even a technical end to the probe does not mean that there isn’t potentially more investigations to be pursued by other agencies. The big question is what Barr’s report will reveal about the probe.
Moss also took the opportunity to expand upon and clarify his earlier comments.
“It is certainly plausible that this is all just a coincidence,” he told Law&Crime. “CNN and NBC have been reporting for weeks that Mueller was wrapping up, and allegedly Mueller’s team has recently been unloading files and cases onto other DOJ components to continue on with after Mueller finishes. If that is the case, then we will see just how strictly Barr will apply the rules with respect to what he separately reports to Congress.”
He also predicted that Barr would have a lot of explaining to do–regardless of when Mueller finally completes his work.
“Ironically, there is likely to be a bipartisan desire for a substantive and broad report from Barr, as Republican lawmakers have as much interest in lifting this cloud from Trump as Democrats do in using the report to possibly pursue impeachment,” Moss said.
Pace Law Professor and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Mimi Rocah advised caution about the basic nature of Wednesday’s report.
“I’m waiting to see what it means to say that the Mueller investigation will be ‘complete’ or ‘done’ as CNN is reporting,” Rocah told Law&Crime. “Does that mean that all investigation into these subjects and targets ends–there seem to be too many open loose ends for that to be the case.”
The news, if true, brings with it additional questions.
“[W]ill matters be transferred to other prosecutors and investigators or some of the same prosecutors working within DOJ under Barr? Who will take over the pending cases, especially [Roger] Stone’s?” Rocah asked. “My instinct is that if this is indeed happening now, Mueller was ready to be at this phase and Barr’s confirmation was something he was waiting for to move forward. The other possibility–that peoples’ worst fears about Barr were true–seems too obvious and dark for me to believe right now.”
National security lawyer Mark Zaid was also skeptical of claims that the curtains were closing on Mueller–prematurely or otherwise.
“I highly doubt the news today indicates that Attorney General Barr is shutting down the special counsel’s investigation,” Zaid told Law&Crime. “It would appear the primary work is nearing completion and any remaining loose ends would be transferred to various U.S. Attorney’s Offices. If there was any pressure to untimely or prematurely shut down the investigation I have little doubt that would not become known in short order.”
[Image via Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images]