It’s been rumored in Washington for weeks that special counsel Robert Mueller is close to wrapping up his investigation. And on Monday afternoon, acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker made the first on-the-record statement from a top Justice Department official backing that assessment up.
“Right now, the investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as we — as soon as possible,” Whitaker said at a press conference.
Just before that, the acting attorney general — controversially appointed by President Donald Trump to replace the fired Jeff Sessions — said that he had been “fully briefed on the investigation,” suggesting he knows what he’s talking about, and is not just speculating like others who have said they think Mueller is almost finished.
The news is significant. Mueller’s famously tight-lipped office has not commented on their plans, or how close they might be to finishing, or even whether they will even deliver their findings in the form of a report. (They even declined to comment to reporters who asked about Whitaker’s latest remarks.)
At the press conference, Whitaker said twice he was expecting a “report” from Mueller, in addition to saying he thought the investigation would be done soon.
There is, however, a bit of wiggle room. Whitaker’s exact quote was that the investigation “is, I think, close to being completed.” And it’s not clear whether “close” means a week, a month, or a few months. So it’s not definitive — but it’s more detailed than anything else we’ve heard yet.
We should also consider the source. Whitaker harshly criticized the Mueller investigation in media appearances in the summer of 2017. These criticisms were likely why the Trump White House urged Sessions to hire Whitaker in the first place — and why Trump circumvented DOJ’s line of succession to name Whitaker acting attorney general.
Many feared Whitaker was installed to interfere with or shut down the Mueller investigation. But so far, it has appeared to continue moving forward, with new developments such as the accusation that Paul Manafort lied during cooperation, the plea deal with Michael Cohen, and most recently the arrest of longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone.
Even if it’s true that the Mueller investigation is nearly finished, many questions remain about what comes next. Will there be further indictments? How much from the special counsel’s eventual report will be made public? And what has Mueller found out about the president himself?
You can view Whitaker’s full comments on the matter below, or at this link.
For more on the Mueller investigation, follow Andrew Prokop (@awprokop) on Twitter and check out Vox’s Trump-Russia explainer page,