Special counsel Robert Mueller has submitted his final report, a still-secret document that closes his 22-month investigation into whether President Donald Trump or those around him conspired in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Attorney General William Barr said in a letter to Congress that he might be able to provide lawmakers with the special counsel’s primary conclusions as soon as this weekend.
It’s only the beginning of a struggle between Barr, lawmakers and the White House over how much of Mueller’s findings—and the evidence behind them—will be disclosed to Congress and the public. That fight is likely to escalate from social media wars between the president and his critics to hearing rooms on Capitol Hill and ultimately to the Supreme Court.
Whatever Mueller found, the completion of his investigation is a turning point for Trump, whose presidency has been dogged by an inquiry he routinely rages against on Twitter as a “witch hunt.”
Before wrapping up his probe, Mueller helped secure guilty pleas from five people involved in Trump’s presidential campaign—including Paul Manafort, who was his campaign chairman, and Michael Flynn, who became his first national security adviser. He has also indicted more than two dozen Russian hackers and military intelligence officers.
While Mueller never said a word publicly, he and his team of prosecutors used indictments to set out a vivid narrative. It told of hackers tied to Russian intelligence agencies who stole Democratic emails to hurt Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton and who used social media to help spawn division with false and racially charged messages. It uncovered revealing Russian contacts with Trump’s inner circle, such as a meeting in 2016 where Manafort shared polling data with a fixer tied to Russian intelligence.
But the full extent of what Mueller learned hasn’t been revealed—and might not be if he or Barr decide to withhold details that the special counsel didn’t feel involved crimes he felt he could prosecute.
Mueller’s decision to issue a final report indicates that he chose not to indict other major figures in his investigation, including members of Trump’s family and the president. However, if he secured any indictments under seal, they could be handed off to other elements of the Justice Department, such as a U.S. attorney’s office.
Mueller’s report could be politically disastrous for Trump if the special counsel says he uncovered evidence that would justify a congressional move to impeach the president—and it’s sure to be claimed as vindication by the president if he doesn’t.
Even so, Trump isn’t necessarily in the clear. He also faces continuing risk from other investigations, with federal prosecutors in New York looking into his company, presidential campaign and inaugural committee. Mueller has been sharing some matters and handing off others to U.S. attorney’s offices in Manhattan; Alexandria, Va.; and Washington, as well as the Justice Department’s national security division, giving cases that touch on his personal and business affairs a longer lease on life.
Nor is it certain that others close to the president—including Donald Trump Jr., who met with a Russian lawyer after being promised dirt on Clinton—are out of jeopardy. Other prosecutors may well be pursuing investigations related to them.
During Barr’s confirmation hearing in February, he said Mueller’s report would be confidential while “the report that goes public would be a report by the attorney general.” He suggested he might exclude criticism of Trump as inappropriate for any such public report because Justice Department guidelines argue against indicting a sitting president.
“If you’re not going to indict someone, then you don’t stand up there and unload negative information about the person,” he said.
The Justice Department probably won’t want to release the names of people that Mueller investigated but didn’t charge. Material related to ongoing law enforcement operations, grand jury proceedings or classified intelligence programs is also expected to be withheld from the public.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court could decide the fate of Mueller’s findings. Trump and his lawyers have indicated they want the opportunity to issue a rebuttal on anything damaging to the president and to assert executive privilege over any disclosures of his actions during the presidential transition and the presidency.
But congressional Democrats—who now control the House—say they want broad disclosure of Mueller’s investigative work, citing the earlier success of Republicans in pressuring the Justice Department to release details they said showed anti-Trump bias in the FBI. They have talked of issuing subpoenas to force disclosure and even public testimony by Mueller.
“We’re going to insist on the underlying evidence,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in February on ABC’s “This Week.”
“If you take the position that the president cannot be indicted and the only remedy for improper, illegal or other conduct is impeachment, then you cannot withhold that information from Congress, or essentially the president has immunity,” he said.
Trump told reporters Wednesday that he, too, wants Mueller’s report made public. “Let it come out,” he said. “Let people see it.”
Mueller, a former FBI director, was appointed in May 2017 to conduct one of the most consequential investigations in U.S. history.
Beyond Russia’s election meddling—which U.S. intelligence agencies found was aimed at hurting Clinton and ultimately at helping Trump win—Mueller has been probing possible collusion in the operation and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice.
In particular, Mueller investigated Trump’s efforts to get then-FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Mueller also investigated whether Trump’s decision to fire Comey in May 2017 constituted obstruction of justice.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel days after Comey’s firing.
While Trump has often tweeted that “NO COLLUSION!” with Russia has been found, Mueller’s inquiry has resulted in indictments of figures close to Trump, including his longtime adviser Roger Stone.
Mueller indicted and convicted Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, for a series of financial crimes, and Manafort has been sentenced to 7ƒ years in prison. He also secured guilty pleas and cooperation agreements from Flynn and Trump’s deputy campaign chairman Richard Gates, and he worked with federal prosecutors in New York who secured a deal with former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.
Mueller’s investigation cost about $25 million from his appointment in May 2017 through September 2018, according to the latest figures, provided by the Justice Department in December.
It’s been a fast-paced project compared to other major investigations of sitting presidents.
Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr spent four years investigating President Bill Clinton before releasing his 1998 report on the Monica Lewinsky affair, which spun out of a probe into an Arkansas land deal known as Whitewater.
The length and cost of that inquiry—and Starr’s public release of a report with sexually explicit details about Clinton’s relations with Lewinsky, an intern—contributed to Congress letting the law authorizing independent counsels expire. Mueller was named under a less expansive Justice Department regulation providing for special counsels.
It took almost two years for special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to indict Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, for lying to investigators and obstruction of justice in October 2005 in the investigation into the public outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Libby was convicted in 2007 of perjury and obstruction of justice. Trump pardoned Libby last year—and he hasn’t ruled out pardons for some of those facing prison time as a result of Mueller’s work.
The Janesville teacher facing his fourth drunken-driving charge is resigning effective March 26.
Dennis Brunner, 50, of 3316 S. Afton Road, Janesville, was arrested Feb. 25 on charges of operating while intoxicated, fourth offense; threatening a law enforcement officer; and resisting arrest. Since that time, he has been on paid leave from his job as a physical education teacher at Madison Elementary School.
Because Brunner is resigning, he is eligible for only his state pension from the Wisconsin Retirement System. No other school district retirement benefits will be provided, according to a school district spokesperson.
The charges are related to an incident Feb. 23, when Janesville police report finding Brunner passed out in the driver’s seat of a car that was still running.
Brunner refused to wait in the car and became aggressive with police when they tried to restrain him, according to the criminal complaint filed in Rock County Court.
On the way to Rock County Jail, Brunner repeatedly described the charges using expletives and threatened one of the officers, saying he “better hope he doesn’t see me on the street.” When asked what he meant, Brunner said, “I know a lot of biker guys. It means there is going to be a bounty put out on him.”
His preliminary breath test indicated in a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.235, nearly three times the legal limit of .08., according to the complaint.
Brunner was listed as a school district employee as early as 1995, according to Gazette records. He also worked as a driving school instructor.
Court records show that on June 10, 2015, Brunner was convicted of third-offense operating while intoxicated and was placed on probation for two years. He served 60 days in the Rock County Jail as a condition of probation.
Court records also show on May 19, 2015, Brunner was convicted of second-offense operating while intoxicated and reckless driving causing bodily harm.
He was placed on two years probation for both charges and served 28 days in jail as a condition of probation.
Brunner’s next court appearance is Wednesday, March 27.
Forgiveness is not a common thing to hear from a family who lost a loved one to a drunken driver.
Make no mistake, the parents and siblings of Calvin Hanchett are angry. Some of them said so as they spoke at a Rock County Court hearing Friday.
But they’re also working to find forgiveness, and they’re hoping for good to grow from tragedy.
The occasion was the sentencing of a man who was Calvin’s friend. He was also the one who was drunk and in the driver’s seat when an SUV went off the road on the western outskirts of Janesville on May 3, 2017.
Leon E. Bridges, 29, of rural Brooklyn, pleaded guilty Friday to homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle after a prior intoxicant-related conviction and causing injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle.
Judge Karl Hanson sentenced Bridges to five years in prison and nine years of extended supervision for ending Calvin’s life and another year in prison and three years of supervision for causing the injuries of a third man in the vehicle, Michael D. Asmus of Janesville.
Asmus suffered fractures of the pelvis and lower back.
The sentence was stiffer than the five years of prison and 10 years of supervision the attorneys recommended.
Calvin came to his family at age 2 with a background of abuse and neglect and with cognitive disabilities, the family told the court.
The family loved him as their own, his mother, Stephanie Hanchett said.
“Even though he struggled at times, he was a happy boy,” she said.
He joined Special Olympics, where he made many friends, including one he was texting at the moment of the crash, his mother said.
He loved to sing, and he joined the local curling club, she continued. He had many Facebook friends with whom he corresponded, including staff from his high school, she said.
“Everyone Calvin met became his instant friend. Calvin struggled to understand the motives of others and was often taken advantage of by his peers.
He was a follower and easily led. He struggled with alcohol and was in and out of treatment.
“Sometimes he would tell us of his struggles and his determination to do better,” she continued.
“On the day of his death, I don’t know what he was thinking when he got into the car with you, Mr. Bridges. But I believe he trusted you, that you would get him to wherever you were going safely.
“I go over and over in my mind what it was like for him when the car began to swerve and he got bounced around. … I can’t imagine the terror he felt and the pain, when the car finally spun out of control and hit the tree.”
She sobbed as she continued: “I wonder if he was conscious when the car slammed into the tree and he was thrown into a field. I wonder if he lay in the field where he landed and knew he was going to die.
“My heart is broken. My husband and our children are devastated that our son and their brother died such a violent death. We’ve been angry. We miss him. We miss his laugh. … There is a hole in our family and in our hearts that will never go away.
“Mr. Bridges,” she continued, “I want you to know that God is helping me to forgive you. I need God’s forgiveness. I pray that you will seek his forgiveness. You have hurt so many people by choosing to drink and drive.”
Stephanie asked the judge that Bridges’ prison time “be long enough to convince us and this community that Calvin’s life mattered and that no one should die in this horrific and violent way because of the decision you made … to drink and drive.
“I also hope ... when you are out of prison, that you might speak to others about what happens when you drink and drive and how it affected your lives and the lives of so many,” she said.
Calvin’s sister Sarah Brenan told of her life with Calvin, of his struggles and the joys he brought to his loved ones. She said she wanted an example to be made of the tragedy.
“I also want people to take, very seriously, alcoholism and how it affects everyone around them, and I really hope that Leo comes to AA meetings and really embraces the program. … There is hope for you,” Brenan said.
Calvin’s father, Jon Hanchett, said Calvin was excited about his upcoming 40th birthday before his life ended.
“We feel very bad for Mr. Bridges. We really do,” Jon said.
“He suffered a great deal. … It was the Lord’s will that Calvin died. It was the Lord’s will that Leon lived, and we just pray that we can forgive him. It’s very necessary for us as a family. It’s necessary for him to receive forgiveness in his family, as well.”
Jon said his family wanted Bridges to share his story with others who have been in trouble with drinking.
“We don’t want what has happened to go for naught. We want good to come out of it,” he said. “And that good can only come now from our forgiveness of Leon and also for his manning up and taking care of his responsibilities.”
Then Bridges’ mother, Karen Raymond, spoke. She said he has cried to her several times because “he wishes it was him and not Calvin.”
Leon died at the scene and was revived, and the same happened on the operating table, she said. He also lost the right to see his children because of this, she said. And she worries about something happening in prison because he lost some of the bone in his skull.
She will have to trust in God to keep him safe, she said.
“We’re all just terribly sad that this happened,” said Bridges’ stepfather, Richard Raymond. “We hope that as a result of the sentence … that Leon will come out of this and be a positive influence on many people. … We just wanted Calvin’s family to know how sorry we all are.”
The three friends had been drinking that day, defense attorney Matt Lanta acknowledged at the hearing. Then they decided to take a trip out of town.
Asmus told officers that Bridges was speeding, passing other cars and traveling into oncoming traffic, according to the complaint.
Hanchett and Bridges were thrown from the vehicle. Asmus, the only one wearing a seat belt, was pinned inside.
Lanta said in cases like this, the state Department of Corrections requires absolute sobriety, close monitoring and intense treatment.
Bridges suffered a brain injury and a broken back, and his recovery included alcohol and mental-health treatment and relearning to walk and talk, Lanta said.
Bridges apologized to Calvin’s family. He noted he will live with this for the rest of his life, a prospect he called “terrifying.”
Hanson said that after hearing from the family, he wishes he had known Calvin and that he might have wanted to be his Facebook friend.
“I truly feel our community has lost a wonderful member of the community,” Hanson said.
After the hearing was over, the two families met outside the courtroom.
Some of them embraced. Jon Hanchett was overheard saying he appreciated what the Raymonds had said.
They chatted quietly for several minutes before parting ways.
Gladys M. Fiedler
Colleen Marie Lorenz
Susan M. Newcomb