ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Here in Washington this afternoon, President Trump took questions from reporters as he met with the chancellor of Austria at the White House. One of the big questions was about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and when it might wrap up. NPR national political reporter Mara Liasson joins us with more from the White House.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: There's a report from CNN today and a similar one from NBC yesterday suggesting that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, could turn over his findings to the Justice Department as early as next week. The president was asked about that today. What did he say?
LIASSON: Well, before we get to the president, we should say that there have been a lot of predictions over the last two years about when Mueller's investigation might end.
LIASSON: NPR has not confirmed this reporting. But the president was asked about it, and here's what he said.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That'll be totally up to the new attorney general. He's a tremendous man, a tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the Justice Department. So that'll be totally up to him.
LIASSON: And the reason why it's totally up to him is because Robert Mueller is not required by law to turn over a report to Congress or the public. He is supposed to give the attorney general a confidential report when he completes his work. But nothing compels the attorney general to release it to anyone, including Congress. Now, he is also not running a kind of 9/11 commission. In other words, his job isn't to unravel every mystery and answer every question about what happened. He does have to uncover whether or not crimes were committed.
SHAPIRO: So if the president says this is totally up to the attorney general, what has Barr said about whether this is going to be made public or given to Congress?
LIASSON: At his confirmation hearings, Barr said that he would release as much of the report as was possible according to law and Justice Department policies. Democrats are a little nervous about this. They wanted to hear a more blanket guarantee that he would release the report. But if there is a report from Bob Mueller, there will be tremendous pressure to release it. Polls show that overwhelming majorities of Americans - like, 83 percent - say if there is a Mueller report, it should be released in its entirety. And even prominent Republicans in Congress like Chuck Grassley and John Cornyn in the Senate have both said if there's a Mueller report, it will have to be made public.
SHAPIRO: Well, over the last couple years, we have heard next to nothing from Mueller himself. Has that changed this week?
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) OK.
LIASSON: ...Still radio silence. One thing that's given him so much credibility is that he's not a participant in the partisan Twitter food fights around this investigation. He's said very few things. One time the special counsel's office did say something was to knock down that BuzzFeed report that said the president directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.
His silence has only increased his credibility because the one time he did speak, he was, basically, shutting down a report or disputing a report that would have been negative to the president. On the other hand, the fact that he hasn't said anything has increased the desire and expectations for a complete, total accounting of what happened, especially from Democrats...
LIASSON: ...And even some Republicans who think Mueller might be ready to exonerate the president. They'd like a full accounting, too.
SHAPIRO: Just in our last few seconds, how worried are they at the White House?
LIASSON: Trump has always seen this as a political not a legal problem. He's not worried about being indicted. He thinks the Justice Department rules against indicting a sitting president will hold. What he's really worried about is impeachment. He wants to undermine the credibility of Mueller so he can dismiss anything Mueller comes up with as a partisan smear.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Mara Liasson at the White House. Thanks, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF GILLES PETERSON'S HAVANA CULTURA BAND'S "CHECK LA RIMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.