As midterm elections neared, the Justice Department’s independent investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections went silent—at least more silent than usual.
But that won’t last. The agency typically imposes a two-month quiet period before elections to avoid charges of political behavior—especially after former FBI director James Comey’s multiple missteps in 2016, including publicly re-opening an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server 11 days before election day. The special counsel’s office, led by former FBI director Robert Mueller, issued indictments several times in 2018, but its last came in mid-July.
On Nov. 7, that restraint ends, and Mueller could release new indictments, including against President Donald Trump. It’s unlikely due to both untried constitutional grounds and as a violation of Justice Department policy. However, Trump could be named as an unindicted co-conspirator, skirting that issue. (Read a rundown of every potential charge and current lawsuit against the president.)
Or Mueller could remain silent for several more months, and deliver a confidential report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in charge of the case due to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s recusal. It’s also possible that the public might never hear the outcome.
Rosenstein could, however, send the report to the House, which may shift to Democratic control following elections Nov. 6. If Rosenstein decides against that, Congress could subpoena the report or require Mueller to testify. Mueller might also use the grand-jury process to make some details public—or bypass procedure and disclose his investigation’s outcome directly to Congress.
The special counsel’s most recent flurry of activity came nearly three months ago, during a case Mueller’s office brought against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, the one-time adviser to Eastern European despots was found guilty on eight charges on Aug. 21. That day, Trump’s former attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to charges Mueller had referred to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Manafort pleaded guilty a few weeks later to additional charges to avoid a second trial on additional counts.
Then Mueller went quiet. Well, even quieter than the silence his office usually emits. Even leaks about charges in preparation and grand-jury testimony grew fewer. Roger Stone, another former Trump advisor and long-time Republican political operative, remains a focus, according to reports.
Stone or those who know him could connect the dots between Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in self-imposed exile in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London; the Russian government; and the Trump campaign. Ecuador has seemingly grown tired of Assange’s political speech, behavior, and hygiene, and it’s possible he’ll be turned out of the embassy.
Mueller has played his cards close to his vest, with even his spokesperson rarely releasing statements. Indictments and court appearances have formed the majority of he and his team’s public communications. And that may also be the template for the ultimate outcome.