Marking One Year Since Mueller's Appointment

May 17, 2018
Originally published on May 17, 2018 10:12 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today marks one year since Robert Mueller was appointed the Justice Department's special counsel. His job - to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, including any possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. So where has the investigation been, and where is it going? We're joined by NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas.

Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

MARTIN: Let's start with a little bit of news that broke overnight. The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, says that the Mueller team told him that they won't and can't indict the president. Some Democrats out there, like Senator Richard Blumenthal, say he's wrong. Who's right?

LUCAS: Well, there's been a lot of debate on this and a lot of talk in light of the Mueller investigation. What we do know is that the Justice Department on a couple of occasions has concluded in the past that you can't indict a sitting president, the thinking being basically that it would undermine the executive branch and its duties under the Constitution. Now, special counsel Robert Mueller, of course, reports to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. These are guys who tend to follow the rules, Justice Department guidelines, so a lot of people believe that Mueller would exactly - would be bound by the Justice Department's thinking on this. The statement from Giuliani may be, as much as anything, a part of the president legal team - kind of new attempts to kind of ramp up the pressure on the Mueller investigation.

MARTIN: All right, so it's been a year. What does Robert Mueller have to show for it at this point?

LUCAS: Quite a bit, really. It's been - this investigation has been moving pretty quickly. There have been charges brought against 19 individuals. There have been three Russian entities that have been charged, as well. Mueller has secured guilty pleas from five people in total. That list, of course, includes three people who played a role in the Trump campaign - President Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos and deputy campaign manager Rick Gates. All three of them have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

And then the charges against the Russians - 13 Russians and then Russian entities - are directly related to the question of interference in the 2016 election, and that indictment lays out the case against Internet Research Agency, saying that it carried out this kind of complicated multiyear effort to disrupt the American political system.

MARTIN: So as we know, Mueller's investigation wasn't the only one, right? Congress also opened several of its own into this same issue. At the end of the day, what did those investigations conclude?

LUCAS: Well, this has really been a tale of two committees. You have the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee that were carrying out these investigations separately. The House descended into a very kind of nasty partisan spat. This is the committee, of course, that gave us the dueling memos about alleged FBI and Justice Department surveillance abuses in the early days. Republicans who lead the House committee shut down that investigation, issued a final report in April saying that there was no collusion; there were maybe some ill-advised contacts, but nothing that rose to the level of coordination. Democrats said, that's ridiculous; you didn't conduct a serious investigation; you're trying to protect the president.

On the Senate side, the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation has been a very serious affair. It's been bipartisan in spirit. It's moving forward still, recently released a report on election security. They have a couple more reports to come. But, you know, that committee will come up with a final report on the question of collusion, and that won't be for several months, still, though.

MARTIN: Although they have come out with a report recently saying that the conclusion by the broader intelligence community that Russia was working on behalf - trying to help Donald Trump, trying to hurt Hillary Clinton - that that assessment was correct, right?

LUCAS: They had a closed hearing with leaders of the Obama-era intelligence committees - sorry - intelligence community agencies on that yesterday. They did come to that conclusion, but they haven't issued a report on that question quite yet.

MARTIN: Got it. NPR's Ryan Lucas, thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.