You may be disappointed by the Mueller report

The special counsel operates under rules that severely constrain how much information can be made public.

n the integrity of the process, the regulations impose on the Attorney General these reporting requirements to the Judiciary Committees of the Congress. These reports will occur on three occasions: on the appointment of a Special Counsel, on the Attorney General's decision to remove a Special Counsel, and on the completion of the Special Counsel's work.

"These reports will be brief notifications, with an outline of the actions and the reasons for them."

There is a wildcard — if the Mueller report contains allegations of potentially impeachable offenses against the president, scholars have said the Justice Department would have to pass the full details of that to Congress.

But short of that, it's not clear Congress will get access to the evidence Mueller has gathered.

AG nominee Barr: The public may never see Mueller's report

Mueller has filed charges against 34 people and secured convictions of some of Trump's key former advisers. But none of the charges have accused anyone in Trumpworld of conspiring with the Russian intelligence operation to help Trump get elected in 2016. Nor has Mueller made any allegation that the president is compromised by Russia — a suspicion that percolates in part because of Trump's favorable behavior towards Vladimir Putin.

What if Mueller has evidence of that, but not enough to prove a criminal case? Isn't the public entitled to know?

The Democrats who now control the House have already made clear that they will do everything they can to ensure that Mueller's findings become public. They may well subpoena the confidential Mueller report to the attorney general.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation of the 2016 election, would also have an interest in gaining access to Mueller's findings and the evidence he has obtained.

But the Justice Department may well resist those demands. Congress generally can't get access to information gathered by a grand jury, which by law is secret. And that may cover large swaths of the information Mueller has gathered.

Other aspects of the report are likely to be classified or "law enforcement sensitive," a term of art for confidential information.

Still other segments may be covered by executive privilege.

Image: William Barr

William Barr arrives for a meeting with Sen. Josh Hawley on Jan. 29, 2019 in Washington.Mark Wilson / Getty Images file

What's more, a central principle of the U.S. justice system is that prosecutors don't pass public judgment on conduct unless they are doing so in a criminal filing. Former FBI Director James Comey was criticized for doing that in the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Multiple Justice Department and Congressional officials have told NBC News they expect a Mueller report to be sent over to the Justice Department in the next several weeks.

When it lands, it's possible officials will publicly acknowledge receipt.

And that will be it, untilAttorney General William Barrdecides how, if at all, he is going to make information public.

Barr was asked about this many times at his confirmation hearing. And, as legal scholars Jack Goldsmith and Maddie McMahon pointed out in an article on Lawfare.com, Barr promised to make as much information public as he could. But he added an important qualifier: "consistent with current law."

"Barr was remarkably — and, in our view, understandably — noncommittal in these statements," they write. "He reminded the senators of what the regulations say and noted that he would follow them.

Barring the distinct possibility of a leak, Barr may play a crucial role in deciding how much of Mueller's findings become public. The rules governing the special counsel are internal rules that Barr could change. And they do not appear to constrain the attorney general from holding a news conference and discussing Mueller's report.

But nothing Barr said during his confirmation hearing suggested he would do that.

"Let's assume that Mr. Mueller at some point, hopefully soon, writes a report and that report will be given to you," Sen. John Kennedy asked him. "What happens next under the protocol rules and regulations at Justice?"

Barr replied: "Well under the current rules, that report is supposed to be confidential and treated as, you know, the prosecution and declination documents in an ordinary—any other criminal case. And then, the attorney general as I understand the rules, would report to Congress about the conclusion of the investigation. I believe there may be discretion there about what the attorney general can put in that report."

How Barr exercises that discretion may determine how much the public learns about what Robert Mueller knows.

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