Michael Cohenâ€™s appearance last week before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform was surely a spectacle. The former personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, who had spent a decade lunging at anyone who threatened Trumpâ€™s image or interests, marshaled his own attack on the presidentâ€™s character and behavior.
Cohen also documented his testimony with financial statements and canceled checks. This was meant to compensate for his own damaged credibility. But in revealing the hard evidence, Cohen also demonstrated why itâ€™s essential that the most prominent presidential investigation - Special Counsel Robert Muellerâ€™s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election - ultimately makes its evidence public.
There is no guarantee that this will happen. Regulations require Mueller to produce â€śa confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel.â€ť He must submit his findings to Attorney General William Barr, and Barr must notify Congress of the reportâ€™s completion. But the attorney general is not required to share its details. Nor is he compelled to make those findings public. In his confirmation hearings before the Senate, Barr conspicuously declined to promise he would, saying only that he would provide as much transparency as possible â€śconsistent with the law.â€ť
Thatâ€™s not good enough. Russian sabotage of the 2016 election is a matter of vital public concern as well as national security. High-ranking members of the Trump campaign and Trumpâ€™s former White House national security adviser have already pleaded guilty to crimes.
Of course, the special counsel must be careful not to speculate, or impugn the reputations of people who are not charged with crimes. But Mueller should lay out in as detailed a manner as possible what his team has learned, regardless of whether or not that information results in criminal indictments.
This becomes especially important if Mueller follows a Justice Department rule that a sitting president cannot be indicted. If indictment is off the table, and only information that leads to an indictment can be made public, then this president and all his successors in perpetuity essentially will be rendered unaccountable.
The only way for the public to digest the complexity of the Russian attack, and for Congress to act, is for the investigationâ€™s scope and implications to be clear. Four in five Americans say Muellerâ€™s full report should be released.