Robert Mueller has completed his Trump-Russia investigation without prosecuting additional associates of the president, and has reported his findings to William Barr, the US attorney general.
Barr said in a letter to senior members of Congress on Friday afternoon he had received a report from Mueller, the special counsel, and expected to be able to inform them of its main conclusions “as soon as this weekend”.
The attorney general said he would consult Mueller and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to determine what information from the report could be released to the public .
“I remain committed to as much transparency as possible,” Barr wrote, adding that he was constrained by law and justice department rules. Senior Democrats and Republicans called for Barr release the report in full.
Justice department officials told reporters Mueller had not recommended any further indictments based on his findings, ending intense speculation that more members of Trump’s circle would be prosecuted.
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leaders in Congress, urged the attorney general not to give Trump a “sneak preview” of Mueller’s findings or to allow the White House to interfere in decisions on what information to release.
The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said Trump had not been briefed on the report. She said: “The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course.”
Mueller’s move brought to an end a sprawling criminal and counterintelligence inquiry that has dominated the first two years of Trump’s presidency, prompting furious attacks from Trump and his allies.
The investigation led to the criminal convictions of Trump’s campaign chairman, deputy chairman, personal attorney and two policy advisers. The president’s longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone was also indicted.
Mueller’s team secured criminal indictments of others, including more than two dozen Russians accused of involvement in Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US election, which US intelligence agencies concluded was aimed at helping Trump win.
Feverish anticipation of the “Mueller report” had grown for months. Critics of Trump hoped for a full public account of any links between his presidential campaign team and the Russian operation, while allies of the president claimed the report would prove there had been “no collusion”.
Robert S Mueller III, 74, is a former FBI director who was appointed by George W Bush and held over by Barack Obama beyond his 10-year term. The term extension required special congressional action which the Senate approved 100-0. Previously, Mueller held two different US attorney posts and was an assistant attorney general in the George HW Bush administration.
Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017, eight days after Trump fired FBI director James Comey. A special counsel is a prosecutor appointed in extraordinary circumstances or in cases of conflicts of interest within the justice department. In this case, there was a need for someone to investigate the Russian matter who was not appointed by or beholden to Trump.
Mueller’s team of 17 lawyers operates independently of, but (ideally) in cooperation with, Congress, which has three committees conducting investigations in parallel to Mueller. Mueller is expected to submit a report to Congress and may bring criminal charges separately.
Mueller has a sizeable budget and an open-ended term. He is specifically authorized to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” plus any matters that “may arise directly from the investigation”. He has the power to prosecute federal crimes.
Can he be replaced?
In theory, William Barr, the new attorney general, could fire Mueller. Barr, who once criticised Mueller's case as “fatally misconceived”, was asked during his confirmation hearing if he would fire the special counsel without good cause and replied: "I would not carry out that instruction." Although, if Trump wanted to fire Mueller, and Barr was unwilling, Trump could replace Barr.
Trump has said Mueller “is very, very good friends with [James] Comey, which is very bothersome” but also said “Robert Mueller is an honorable man.”
It was not clear on Friday how much detail Mueller’s report contained. He was required by law to tell Barr only why his team of investigators decided to prosecute those people who were charged – and declined to pursue others.
It is ultimately up to Barr, who was confirmed as Trump’s attorney general only last month, to decide how much information unearthed by Mueller may be disclosed to Congress and the public.
Barr was obliged only to tell the members of Congress that Mueller has completed his work, and to note any actions proposed by Mueller that Barr blocked. Barr said in his letter there had been no such overruling by the attorney general.
During confirmation hearings in January, Barr told senators that while he believed it was “very important” for the public to be informed of Mueller’s findings, he would aim “provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law”.
The US justice department typically does not disclose the identities of people who were investigated but not charged. James Comey, then FBI director, notoriously broke with that convention in 2016 to say publicly Hillary Clinton would not be prosecuted over her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
Barr reported on Friday to the senior Republicans and Democrats on the Senate and House judiciary committees – Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Dianne Feinstein of California, and Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York and Doug Collins of Georgia.
Collins said he expected Barr to release the report to their committee and to the public “without delay”.
Mueller, a former FBI director and senior justice department official, was appointed special counsel by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, in May 2017. His appointment followed the firing of Comey by Trump.
He was mandated to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and anything arising from that investigation.
Trump repeatedly denounced the inquiry as a “witch-hunt” and took several steps that appeared aimed at obstructing the investigation. He reportedly had to be talked out of firing Mueller.
Mueller charged Russian operatives with stealing emails from the accounts of senior Democrats and releasing them via WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy website, disrupting the Clinton campaign. Other Russians were charged with mounting an online disinformation campaign aimed at swaying American voters.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, said Mueller’s findings should be used to guard against future interference from foreign states.
“Many Republicans have long believed that Russia poses a significant threat to American interests,” he said. “I hope the special counsel’s report will help inform and improve our efforts to protect our democracy.”
Advisers to former president Barack Obama have said that after secret talks during the 2016 campaign, McConnell refused to join a bipartisan public statement condemning Russia’s actions, claiming it was an effort to undermine Republicans.
Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted on a series of financial crimes and later admitted to conspiracy charges as part of a plea deal. Mueller tore up the deal when Manafort continued lying to investigators.
Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, admitted to lying to investigators – the same crime admitted by Trump campaign advisers Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos. Flynn had been Trump’s first White House national security adviser.
Stone, a longtime friend and adviser to Trump, is charged with obstructing justice, lying to Congress and witness tampering.