A little more than a week ago, the House of Representatives voted 420-0 to recommend a public release of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. This call for transparency was so unobjectionable that even the four Republicans who didn’t want to vote for the resolution voted “present.” Even President Trump said he supported letting the public see the report — not just the summary of “principal conclusions” that Attorney General William P. Barr sent to Congress on Sunday.
Since Mueller sent his report to Barr on Friday, though, many Republicans have suddenly become more reluctant about transparency. On ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) first said, “that’s the attorney general’s call”; when host George Stephanopolos pointed out that the president could also order the full report released, Jordan dodged again: “That’s the president’s call.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Jordan would say only that “I hope it’s made public.” After House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told “Fox News Sunday” that “the report should go public in its entirety,” the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Douglas A. Collins (Ga.), said, “It’s amazing to hear my chairman say that he wants everything out there.” And the president himself has been uncharacteristically quiet this weekend.
It’s hardly surprising that Trump’s most committed defenders might not want a full airing of the report. They may see Mueller’s decision not to issue any more indictments for conspiracy with Russians over the 2016 election as vindication. But that doesn’t mean the report will necessarily show there was no fire fueling all the smoke. As Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) noted on “This Week,” “There’s a difference between compelling evidence of collusion and whether the special counsel concludes that he can prove beyond a reasonable doubt the criminal charge of conspiracy.” Mueller may not have indicted anyone else because there wasn’t any evidence. But it also could be because Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and others lied and/or refused to cooperate, because rules about classified evidence hinder making the case, or because, under Justice Department policy, he couldn’t indict a sitting president.
Furthermore, as law professor Randall D. Eliason wrote in a Post op-ed Saturday, “There are many actions that are deplorable, naive, reckless or unwise that are not criminal.” We’ve already seen this fine line in action: Recall that, though Southern District of New York prosecutors have not indicted the president, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to crimes committed “in coordination with and at the direction of” then-candidate Trump. (Asked on ABC if this concerned him, Jordan could only reply, “It’s been an amazing two and a half years under the president’s leadership.”)
Similarly, a public release of the full Mueller report may show even more suspicious contacts between Trump campaign members and Russian beyond those already publicly proven. It could reveal more damaging information on other criminal investigations related to Trump, such as the SDNY probe into his inaugural committee. And it could expose even more corruption from Trump and his associates. While not rising to the level of criminality, none of those outcomes would be good for the president. No wonder many Republicans are back to hemming and hawing.