Despite pledging transparency, Mr. Barr may be reluctant to release the part of Mr. Mueller’s report that may be of most interest: who the special counsel declined to prosecute and why, especially if Mr. Trump is on that list.
The department’s longstanding practice, with rare exceptions, is not to identify people who were merely investigative targets to avoid unfairly tainting their reputations, especially because they would have no chance to defend themselves in a court of law. Mr. Rosenstein, who has overseen Mr. Mueller’s work and may have a say in what is released, is a firm believer in that principle.
In a May 2017 letter that the president seized upon as justification for his decision to fire James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, Mr. Rosenstein severely criticized Mr. Comey for announcing during the previous year that Hillary Clinton, then a presidential candidate, would not be charged with a crime for mishandling classified information as secretary of state. Releasing “derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation,” Mr. Rosenstein wrote, is “a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”
Weighing that principle against the public’s right to know is even more fraught in the president’s case. If Mr. Mueller declined to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Trump, he might have been guided not by lack of evidence, but by the Justice Department’s legal opinions that a sitting president cannot be indicted. The department’s Office of Legal Counsel has repeatedly advised that the stigma and burden of being under prosecution would damage the president’s ability to lead.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the head of the House Judiciary Committee, has argued that the department’s view that presidents are protected from prosecution makes it all the more important for the public to see Mr. Mueller’s report.
“To maintain that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and then to withhold evidence of wrongdoing from Congress because the president cannot be charged, is to convert D.O.J. policy into the means for a cover-up,” he said before the House approved its nonbinding resolution to disclose the special counsel’s findings.
Some predict that any disclosures from Mr. Mueller’s report will satisfy neither Mr. Trump’s critics nor his defenders, especially given the public’s high expectations for answers. A Washington Post-Schar School poll in February illustrated the sharp divide in public opinion: It found that of those surveyed, most Republicans did not believe evidence of crimes that Mr. Mueller’s team had already proved in court, while most Democrats believed he had proved crimes that he had not even claimed.