|EMILY SCHERER / FIVETHIRTYEIGHT|
It was in the early days of November 2014 when U.S. authorities received an urgent communication from the Dutch intelligence service that it had evidence Russian computer hackers using the persona "Cozy Bear" had wormed their way into the Democratic National Committee's computer system. The warning was pretty much ignored.
In what seems like forever since that initial warning -- a four year and four month eternity in which the Kremlin cybersabotaged Hillary Clinton's campaign, greased the skids for a reality TV star and real-estate mogul to become president, and that president has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch hunt -- Special Counsel Robert Muller may soon deliver his breathlessly awaited final report on the greatest scandal in American history.
It has been nearly two years since Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in a political misjudgment of mind blowing enormity and the shrewd Mueller was appointed to pick up the pieces of Comey's fledgling investigation, which it was later revealed also was a counterintelligence investigation into whether the president of the United States has been working for Russia.
As a result of Mueller's probings, Trump's former campaign manager and longtime consigliere are going to prison, his longest serving political adviser will probably end up there, and his deputy campaign manager and others are cooperating with prosecutors. The investigation has expanded to include Trump's family business, hush-money payments made to women with whom he had affairs, his stillborn Trump Tower Moscow project, his fraught relationship with money laundering-happy Deutschebank, his abjectly corrupt inaugural committee, and the pay-to-play involvement of foreign governments seeking access to his administration.
Six former associates and advisers to Trump have been indicted or entered guilty pleas and literally dozens of people associated with his business dealings, his campaign and his presidency have been tarnished as the enormous breadth and depth of his criminality has been laid bare.
Yet some of the biggest names in the scandal, including Trump's own children and son-in-law, all deeply entwined in major threads of the scandal, seem to have been untouched by Mueller's long reach. And although hinted at, no Trump campaign official has been charged with colluding with Russia.
What then can we expect from Mueller's final report?
Much of what the report will contain has been hiding in plain sight in the form of the 37 indictments, many with detailed appendices, and 199 criminal charges involving a rogues gallery of Trump associates and over two dozen Russians brought by Mueller's prosecutors based on grand jury testimony.
Beyond that obvious if overlooked aspect, things get murky.
The 2000 Justice Department regulation under which the special counsel serves requires him to submit a report to the attorney general "explaining [his] prosecution or declination decisions." In plain English, this means an explanation as to why he chose not to seek indictments where individuals were investigated -- possibly including the president.
Do not expect that report to be made public, a decision that is to be made at the discretion of AG William Barr under the Justice regulation. What Barr is required to do is make his own report to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House judiciary committees -- Lindsey Graham in the Senate and Jerrold Nadler in the House.
But things are murky here, as well.
Barr can send a brief report to those committee members and leave it at that. Or he can provide a more thorough accounting, possibly drafted by Mueller himself, that would offer extensive details of the evidence and perhaps Mueller's assessments of that evidence.
"It is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel's work," Barr has said, while adding that " . . . my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law."
In other words, avoid sullying the reputations of people who were not charged, up to and most especially including his boss.
This is where it is helpful to remember that the Justice Department has more or less concluded, and many legal scholars more or less agree, that a sitting president cannot be indicted for a criminal offense. Nor should it be expected Mueller would address in his report whether Trump should be indicted after leaving office.
What has been little remarked on in many of the stories anticipating what Mueller's report will say is the counterintelligence aspect of his mandate.
Mueller's marching orders state that he is to ascertain "links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump."
But the special counsel also can be expected to assess for the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees -- Richard Burr in the Senate and Adam Schiff in the House -- what threat Russia poses to the U.S. electoral system and what, if any, threat Trump poses to the U.S.
He also can be expected to ascertain whether and to what extent Trump has been compromised by Russia, which would undermine his constitutional duties as president, and this assessment may end up being the most damaging result of his labors.
What are Trump's financial obligations to Russia? Why does he avoid criticizing Vladimir Putin even when the Russian leader orders his agents to poison people on foreign soil? Why has he opposed sanctions against Russia? Why is he so uninterested in addressing Russian threats to the electoral system?
Martin Lederman, a law professor and former official in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, writes in The Washington Post:
"The counterintelligence investigation's answers to these and similar questions . . . are of far greater current importance to the functioning of our government than determining whether Trump's deeply inappropriate conduct in 2016-2017 violated any particular criminal statutes."
It ostensibly will be at the discretion of Burr and Schiff to assess how much of the information they can share with the rest of Congress and the public. Typically, little or none of the nitty-gritty of a counterintelligence investigation would be shared because the information is classified and could reveal sensitive sources or methods.
But this is anything but a typical case, and the public's need to know whether its president is compromised, let alone fit to continue in office, demands public disclosure. And, fingers crossed and prayers said, could be the trigger to begin impeachment proceedings.
A substantial degree of public disclosure would seem to be probable.
This is because of the leaky Washington culture, House passage of a non-binding resolution by a 420-0 vote supporting public release of Mueller's final report (Trump poodle Graham blocked a Senate vote) and Schiff 's threat to subpoena Mueller, if necessary.
But, as you may have anticipated, there is a very big but.
Trump said earlier last week that " . . . there should be no Mueller report." But on Saturday, in the wake of the House resolution, he said he has told the Republican congressional leadership "to let all Republicans vote for transparency. Makes us all look good and doesn’t matter."
This is why Trump thinks it doesn't matter: His lawyers expect to examine and pick apart what Barr sends to Congress before Congress or the public see anything.
That would trigger an interminable battle royale in the courts over the report because of the likelihood that those lawyers will claim executive privilege in trying to keep sealed much of the report, or at least stonewall its public dissemination. Never mind that such a move would further confirm that Trump is still trying to shut down a witch hunt that even he understands -- despite the deepening fog of narcissism and madness enveloping him -- will destroy his presidency.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.