WASHINGTON -- Only a few blocks from the National Mall, amid a cluster of nondescript buildings, more than a dozen prosecutors working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III have followed an unusual routine as they toil away on the Russia investigation.
When they leave the office at night, they often wonder if it could be their last day on the job, according to an attorney familiar with their work. Fearful that President Donald Trump will try to shut down the sprawling criminal investigation, they've been compiling and writing their conclusions as they go, the attorney said.
Even if Trump doesn't try to fire Mueller and disband his team -- something he's threatened several times -- the president's lawyers have indicated they'll try to keep the public from learning whatever the special counsel's office has discovered. They've repeatedly said some information may be covered by executive privilege, the legal claim that safeguards the confidentiality of a president's private conversations.
If Mueller tries to include in a final report details gleaned from White House documents or interviews with administration officials, "we specifically reserved our right to object," said Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who represents Trump.
The president pointedly refused on Thursday to say whether any report from Mueller should be made public, telling reporters, "We'll have to see."
It's unclear exactly when Mueller's investigation will end, and the special counsel still has not secured the presidential interview he's been seeking for more than a year. Trump submitted some written answers shortly before Thanksgiving; Giuliani said prosecutors' subsequent request to ask more questions in writing and in person was refused before Christmas.
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Since then, he said, there has been no communication with the special counsel's office.
"There's nothing much to talk to them about," Giuliani said.
Recently, however, there have been indications the end game could be drawing near. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, for example, has told associates he expects to step down shortly after the Senate confirms William P. Barr as the new attorney general. That could come within weeks; Barr's confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin Tuesday. Rosenstein has been supervising Mueller's work and does not want to leave his post until the special counsel is wrapping up.
Whenever Mueller does finish his work, it will kick off a new phase in the legal and political fights over the Russia investigation. The president's legal team is preparing its own report rebutting whatever Mueller concludes; Trump tweeted last month that they'd already finished 87 pages. Giuliani said how much was released depended on what the special counsel concluded.