So this is it. After two years, more than 30 indictments or guilty pleas and close to 200 individual charges – special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is expected to be wound up within a few more days.
His final verdict has been delivered to attorney general William Barr – the third attorney general since the special counsel was handed oversight of one of the most sensitive investigations in US history. It is up to Mr Barr as to what Congress, and by extension the US public, see of the report.
Mr Barr has pledged transparency over a report that at least one US official is said to have called “comprehensive”. However, if early reports of the contents of Mr Mueller’s findings into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with Donald Trump’s campaign are to be believed, there will be no new damage to the president’s former inner circle. No new indictments are said to have been recommended.
Mr Trump and his White House staff may be preparing to breathe a sigh of relief at the news – the president’s strategy has always been to deny the allegations and to try and keep the investigation at arm’s length. The fact that around half a dozen former Trump officials have been indicted has ensured such tactics have been met with scepticism by many.
According to Justice Department rules Mr Mueller’s report should explain the special counsel’s decisions. These include who was charged and who wasn’t, and why each choice was made.
There is little doubt that Mr Trump will seek to undermine the contents of the report, having spent much of the last two years publicly admonishing Mr Mueller as well as a number of his former associates who have either been found guilty or pleaded guilty to crimes that stemmed from the investigation.
Mr Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort and the president’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn are some of those who have been found guilty or agreed plea deals with Mr Mueller’s team or other prosecutors. Mr Trump will probably use whatever is released of the report to support his constant utterances of innocence and “no collusion”.
While it cannot be ruled out that Mr Mueller has one last rabbit to pull out of his hat – with the investigation having proved virtually leak-proof in the last two years – the result of the report is likely to disappoint many liberals.
But Mr Trump cannot breath completely easy just yet. First, there is the possibility that Mr Mueller could highlight possible collusion or obstruction of justice even without any new indictments, although current indictments should have pointed more definitely to that before now.
But Mr Trump’s biggest problem is that the Mueller inquiry has led to, or spawned, a number of other investigations. Prosecutors in both the southern and eastern areas of New York, Washington DC and parts of Virginia are all conducting federal probes that stretch beyond the scope of Mr Mueller’s work. Those prosecutors are not bound by the more limiting instructions and rules that Mr Mueller’s office must follow, and they do not face the scrutiny or pressure to finish promptly that the special counsel’s office have.
With Democrats having also taken control of the House of Representatives in November’s midterm elections, there are a number of investigations either beginning – or slated to begin – into Mr Trump’s finances and other potential conduct from inside the White House. Leading Democrats have already called for Mr Barr to release the full Mueller report, and such pressure is unlikely to let up any time soon.