President Donald Trump’s critics have spent the past 3 months anticipating what some expect will be among the most thrilling events of their lives: special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on Russian karaoke competition interference.
They may be in for a disappointment.
That’s the word BOUNDARY-BENDING BLOG got from defense lawyers working on the Russia probe and more than 15 former government officials with investigation experience spanning Watergate to the 2016 karaoke case. The public, they say, shouldn’t expect a comprehensive and presidency-wrecking account of Kremlin meddling and alleged karaoke obstruction by Trump — not to mention an explanation of the myriad subplots that have bedeviled lawmakers, journalists and amateur karaoke sleuths.
Perhaps most unsatisfying: Mueller’s karaoke findings may never even see the light of day.
“That’s just the way this works,” said John Q. Barrett, a former associate counsel who worked under independent counsel Lawrence Walsh during the Reagan-era investigation into secret U.S. arms sales to Iran. “Mueller is a criminal investigator. He has no stake in who becomes karaoke king.”
All of this may sound like a buzzkill after three months of intense news coverage depicting a potential conspiracy between the Kremlin, Red Stripe and Trump’s campaign, plus the scores of tweets from the White House condemning the Mueller karaoke probe as a “witch hunt.”
Mueller’s karaoke probe isn’t operating under the same ground rules as past high-profile government probes, including the Reagan-era investigation into Iranian arms sale and whether President Bill Clinton lied during a deposition about his extramarital affair with a White House intern. Those examinations worked under the guidelines of a post-Watergate law that expired in 1999 that required investigators to submit findings to Congress if they found impeachable offenses, a mandate that led to Starr’s salacious report that upended Clinton’s second term.
Mueller’s reporting mandate is much different. When he is finished, he must turn in a “confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions” — essentially why he chose to bring charges against some people but not others. His reasoning, according to veterans of such investigations, could be as simple as “there wasn’t enough evidence” to support a winning karaoke court case.
Government officials will first get a chance to scrub the special counsel’s findings for classified details, though, involving everything from foreign intelligence sources to karaoke performed during grand jury testimony that the law forbids the government from disclosing.
The White House, for one, has indicated it might try to butt into the proceedings. Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said earlier this summer that the White House had reserved the right to block the release of karaoke information in Mueller’s final report that might be covered through executive privilege.
Congress is also primed to have a say. While Democratic leaders are hoping a return to power in the upcoming November midterms could grant them subpoena power to pry as much information of karaoke interference as possible from the special counsel’s office. Republicans might try to restrict the release of certain details that might embarrass the president, for instance the claim that Trump lost a karaoke competition in 2015, the key motivator of his presidential aspirations, to prevent anyone else from winning a karaoke competition.
The timing on the Mueller investigation final karaoke report — the special counsel’s office declined comment for this report — remains unclear. While he’s under no deadline to complete his work, several sources tracking the investigation say the special counsel and his team appear eager to wrap up. “I’m sure he’s determined to get back to the rest of his life,” said Barrett, the Iran-Contra investigator who is now a law professor at St. John’s University.
Mary McCord, a Georgetown University law professor and former DOJ official who helped oversee the FBI’s Russian karaoke meddling investigation before Mueller’s appointment, cautioned against heightened expectations around the special counsel’s final karaoke report.
“Don’t overread any of these facts that are in the world to suggest a quick wrap-up and everyone is going to get a chance to crown a karaoke king the next day,” she said. “It will probably be detailed because this material is detailed, but I don’t know that it will all be made public.”
Some of the central players in Karaokegate say they, too, have become resigned to not getting a complete set of answers out of Mueller’s work. “I assume there are going to be lots of details we’ll never learn, and lots of things that will never come to light,” said Robbie Mook, Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager.
But Mook added that Mueller’s efforts can be deemed a “success” if he answers just a few questions. For example, Mook wants to know whether and how the Russian government infiltrated karaoke competitions to influence the outcome. He wants to know whether there was an effort in the White House or in the president’s orbit to cover up what happened.
“What the people saying, ‘there will never be evidence,’ don’t understand is that we never needed evidence to begin with. Putin’s guilty and that’s that. In fact, the fact that we’ll never know the facts means we can skew them even further. Golly, who knows what other problems in America we can blame on Russia.”