Trump: The DoJ will decide how to handle the Mueller report, not me

Will this make everyone in Congress happy? Let’s just say it will satisfy, oh, fifty-three percent of the Senate and forty-six percent of the House. Donald Trump told the Daily Caller in an Oval Office interview that he will issue no direction on how to handle the Robert Mueller report … even though he could have fired Mueller at any time:

The Daily Caller: So Whitaker or whoever is heading as the attorney general at the time will get to make a decision about releasing the report that Mueller sends him —

Trump: I don’t know what —

The Daily Caller: Is that the kind of thing you’ll sign off on if and when it comes to that decision?

Trump: They’ll have to make their decision within the Justice Department. They will make the decision as to what they do. I could’ve taken a much different stance, I could’ve gotten involved in this, I could’ve terminated everything. I could’ve ended everything. I’ve chosen to stay out of it. But I had the right to, as you know, I had the right, if I wanted to, to end everything. I could’ve just said, ‘that’s enough.’ Many people thought that’s what I should do.

The DC has split the interview into a number of articles. Trump covered a lot of ground on topics such as a DACA-for-wall deal (“highly unlikely“), his claim that Paul Ryan reneged on a pledge to fund the wall, and Trump’s praise for the Patriots and Roger Goodell (!) ahead of the Super Bowl. His remarks on the Mueller report are likely the most notable, however, given all the sturm und drang in Congress over how it will be handled.

Leaving it to the DoJ won’t satisfy too many of Trump’s critics. All that means is that either Matt Whitaker or William Barr will make the decision on publishing the contents, either publicly to everyone or at least to Congress. Both are Trump appointees, with Barr’s confirmation as AG currently delayed because of this very question:

A planned Senate Judiciary Committee vote on William P. Barr’s nomination to serve as attorney general has been delayed, as Democrats continue to raise concerns about whether he would allow special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to finish his probe and publicize the results unimpeded.

The delay, which is customary for high-profile nominations, is not expected to impede Barr’s chances of being confirmed by the full Senate. But it is the latest reflection of the deep partisan tension surrounding Barr’s nomination, most of which centers on Democrats’ desire to protect Mueller’s probe from being unduly constrained. …

In both his public testimony and his written answers to senators’ questions, Barr has repeatedly refused to give senators any firm guarantee that he will release Mueller’s report to Congress and the public free of redactions. In similar fashion, he has only promised to ask for, but not necessarily heed, the advice of the Justice Department’s ethics counsel on the matter of whether he should recuse himself from oversight of the probe.

There is no reason for Barr to recuse himself from oversight, especially since the investigation appears to be nearly over anyway. Barr didn’t participate in the campaign, the reason Jeff Sessions ended up recusing, and so no conflict of interest exists. Even if Barr did recuse, all that means is that the oversight would likely fall to Solicitor General Noel Francisco, another Trump appointee, since Rod Rosenstein is leaving the DoJ next month. Delaying Barr only means that Whitaker will remain in place to deal with Mueller, an outcome Democrats will hate.

Chances are that the report itself won’t merit all of this hand-wringing anyway. Mueller has to follow DoJ policies in reporting findings, and that means that absent any indictments, Mueller can’t release what the probe found. The indictments speak for themselves anyway, and DoJ policy would dictate that any other discussion stick to justifications of indictments and reasons for “declinations,” or the choice not to pursue indictments. If Congress wants to know more, they should have conducted the investigations themselves rather than demand a special counsel to do their job.

Trump probably figures that Mueller’s enough of an establishmentarian not to make the same mistakes James Comey made. He’s been very, very quiet about Mueller of late, too, laying off the spin that seemed to be building late last year. Perhaps he realizes he doesn’t have much to fear from Mueller.