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S. 236 (116th): Special Counsel Transparency Act

Should the investigation into Trump’s Russia ties be released publicly, or should the administration reserve the right to keep it secret?


Special Counsel Robert Mueller has led the investigation of President Trump’s ties to Russia during his campaign and presidency, including possible collusion and election interference, which are both federal crimes.

Many expect Mueller’s final report will be completed in February. But the report is only required to be reported to the attorney general, who in turn would decide whether to release it to Congress and/or the public.

During his January confirmation hearings, Trump’s current Attorney General nominee William Barr refused to commit to releasing the Mueller report publicly, if confirmed.

What the bill does

The Special Counsel Transparency Act would require the Mueller report to be released publicly within two weeks of its completion.

In fact, the legislation would apply to any future special counsel’s report.

It would also require that a report be submitted, even if incomplete, to the public even if the special counsel is fired, within two weeks. Trump has previously sought to fire Mueller, though others in the administration have so far talked Trump out of it, fearing it would be an impeachable offense for obstruction of justice.

The bill was introduced on January 28 as bill number S. 236 by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill informs the public about the actions, possibly criminal, of their elected leaders rather than keeping it behind closed doors.

“A Special Counsel is appointed only in very rare serious circumstances involving grave violations of public trust,” Sen. Blumenthal said in a press release. “The public has a right and need to know the facts of such betrayals of public trust.”

“Our bipartisan bill makes it the default that the American people have access to the full story, putting in context any conclusions with findings and evidence.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the attorney general should reserve the right to decide whether the report should be publicly released, as the status quo, based on concerns about executive privilege or whether the information should remain confidential.

“I’m sure we will,” Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani told the New Yorker when asked if the White House would object to the report’s public release on the ground of executive privilege.

“Totally up to to the Attorney General,” President Trump said this past weekend when asked about it by Margaret Brennan on CBS’s Face the Nation. “It depends. I have no idea what it’s going to say.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted one cosponsor, a Republican from across the aisle: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

It awaits a possible vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Graham has publicly backed legislation protecting Mueller’s job from firing and also said he wants “to get as much [of the report] out as we can,” but has not publicly committed to a transparency bill like this one.

Last updated Feb 11, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 28, 2019.

Special Counsel Transparency Act

This bill establishes reporting requirements with respect to a special counsel appointed by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Specifically, it requires a special counsel to submit a report, within 30 days, to DOJ and Congress (1) at the conclusion of an investigation; or (2) when the special counsel is removed from office, transferred within DOJ, or resigns before the completion of the investigation. The report must include the factual findings of the investigation and significant expenditures, explain prosecutorial decisions, and be made publicly available.

Additionally, a special counsel must submit periodic reports to DOJ and Congress on budgetary requirements and expenditures, personnel, and performance statistics.

Finally, the bill requires DOJ to notify Congress when a special counsel is removed or transferred.