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Attorney general reviewing still-secret Mueller report

Special counsel Robert Mueller's report on his investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 election is in the hands of the attorney general who says he’ll release his “preliminary conclusions” this weekend. How much of the full report becomes public is already the subject of debate. NYU law professor Ryan Goodman joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss what’s next.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

    The contents are still secret. The attorney general is still reviewing and the demands to see Special Counsel Robert Maulers report on the almost two- year-investigation into President Trump and Russian election interference are growing.

    Photographers tracked the movements of Attorney General William Barr as he left home this morning. Yesterday, in a letter to congressional leaders Barr said he anticipated he might be "in a position to advise you of the special counsel's principle conclusions as soon as this weekend." President Trump remained at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida where he played golf.

    Democrats and Republicans held conference calls to consider strategies. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement to her Democratic colleagues in advance of their call asking that any briefings about the Mueller report be "unclassified so that members can speak freely about every aspect of the report."

    For analysis and a look at what may be coming next we turn to Ryan Goodman, a professor of law at New York University's School of Law and co -editor-in-chief of the online forum 'Just Security.'

    We are kind of in this holding pattern right now but is there anything that prevents this report and the sort of digested version from being public documents?

  • Ryan Goodman:

    There's nothing that prevents by a matter of law. So this really is the discretion of the attorney general. There might be some caveats there for classified information but that's the only kind of real caveat. Otherwise there's nothing barring him from being able to provide this to Congress and to the public.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Given that there has been public interest even deemed by a vote from the majority of the House to say hey, make this public,right? I mean is there a strong incentive then for Barr for his own transparency interests to make sure that this all looks above board to try to make more of it as public as possible?

  • Ryan Goodman:

    I think so. I think there's a it's an important historical moment when he went up for his nomination. In fact, basically, committed to the Senate that he would make it as transparent as possible consistent with the law. And since there's no real legal barrier I think that's the position that he's in and this is just kind of overwhelming support it seems in the country that the public really wants to know what has happened here and what did Mueller find.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    That central tension between transparency and making sure that people who are not indicted, who are mentioned, who have been investigated, who have not been charged with any crimes, their privacy is protected. Even though for the past couple of years we've also seen several staffers inside the Department of Justice have their kind of. Private text and everything else splayed out even though they have him in charge of particular crimes?

  • Ryan Goodman:

    Right. So that's another concern and that's a kind of a general concern that might come up in criminal prosecutions. And if somebody is deemed not to be indictable because there's not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed the crime. But this is a different kind of a setting in a sense that Mueller is primarily given the mandate of a counter-intelligence investigation to find out if there is derogatory information about people, were there Americans who helped the Russians interfere in the election. And then it's not really a response to say yes but because they didn't commit a crime we can't know about it. You could easily see that the Justice Department would reach the view that in the public interest they do need to reveal some of this information so that the public knows what exactly Muller found. Maybe it's even exonerating, it actually says that there's good information that people did not really go along with the Russians.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Besides what the Department of Justice or what the special counsel finds today is there a possibility here that this kicks some of these pieces of information down the road to say this Southern District of New York or other jurisdictions that might have interest in this?

  • Ryan Goodman:

    I think so. It's so difficult to know what's in that report and what exactly was in Mueller's mind when he decided to wrap up now. But I think a highly plausible explanation of all of this is he completed his counterintelligence mandate, he finished his probe, that was the main objective. And then he reports that to Congress where he reports that to the attorney general and then if there's anything left over in a criminal setting he hands it off to the Southern District of New York to the D.C. office of the Justice Department as he's done with other parts of this investigation.

    This would be special because you'd actually be handing off parts that deal with the Russia element of it so that would be new and that's why it's still difficult to tell without knowing exactly what's in that report.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    There's the report. And then there's the kind of interpretation of that report and the public perception of that report and it seems like it's a Rorschach test in America right now — if you're a supporter of the president you know, the president has called this a witch hunt a 180 plus times, he says this is completely a hoax in the first place. And then there's of course Democrats on the other side who have been really putting a lot of political eggs in this basket and saying let's wait for this report, let's wait for this report. So regardless of what is actually published today, tomorrow, this week, people are not likely to move their kind of points of view on things.

  • Ryan Goodman:

    I think that might be right. And it's just, it's a sorry state about our political affairs in the sense that we might have very credible information coming from Mueller one way or the other and the spin is going to happen in one direction or the other where people who already have their preconceived views in a certain sense about what happened in 2016 and what they think about this president. So I think it's going to be a really interesting and important moment for the country to see whether or not something like this can actually penetrate and change people's minds.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right Ryan Goodman from NYU and the 'Just Security' blog. Thanks so much.

  • Ryan Goodman:

    Thank you.

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