A stealthy way to kill the inquiry.
Before he joined the Trump Justice Department — and before he became acting attorney general — Matt Whitaker tweeted approval of an NPR article suggesting that the public might never learn what special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation reveals because the attorney general might simply decline to release Mueller’s report.
The article Whitaker tweeted urged Trump foes not to get their hopes up that Mueller would ever shake up the political landscape, and Whitaker (a couple of days after referring to “the Mueller lynch mob”) endorsed that idea.
— Matt Whitaker (@MattWhitaker46) August 17, 2017
The article, written by Carrie Johnson, has two elements.
First, much of Mueller’s work is being conducted via grand juries, and grand jury work is normally kept confidential.
Second, and more consequential, it’s possible that Mueller’s formal report on the conclusions of his investigation could simply be bottled up by the attorney general — i.e., by Whitaker himself:
Regulations governing the special counsel say that at the conclusion of his work, he “shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions.” Then, it’s up to the attorney general to determine whether releasing some information would be in the public interest.
This is particularly relevant to the Mueller case because it’s far from clear that any attorney would ever actually charge the president of the United States with a crime.
Rather, a special counsel’s report would potentially contain damning information that led to a political response, including either impeachment proceedings or electoral losses for members of Congress who declined to advance impeachment proceedings. But if the attorney general simply keeps the information in his back pocket, then there is no political impact.
Any such move would, obviously, be a big political story and prompt outrage from Democrats. But the nature of the Trump-era news cycle is that it would inevitably be overtaken by six more outrages within a month or so. And this means of stymying the Mueller investigation would be of lower salience than actually firing him while producing some similar benefits.