Special counsel Robert Mueller has almost finished up his nearly two-year investigation into collusion and Russian interference in the 2016 election, the acting attorney general said Monday.
"The investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope that we can get the report from director Mueller as soon we — as possible," acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said during a news conference after announcing criminal charges against one of China's largest telecommunications companies.
"I have been fully briefed on the investigation, and I look forward to director Mueller delivering the report, and I really am not going to talk about an open and ongoing investigation otherwise," he added.
Whitaker's comments are the first on record from a Justice Department official saying the probe is near completion.
"I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be um reviewed, you know, through the various means we have," Whitaker said.
NBC News, citing government officials and others familiar with the situation, reported last month that Mueller was expected to submit a confidential report to the attorney general as early as mid-February. "They clearly are tying up loose ends," a lawyer who had been in contact with the Mueller team said then.
It's unclear when Whitaker, who was named acting AG on Nov. 7, was briefed by Mueller's team. He had not been as of late last month.
President Donald Trump appointed Whitaker to the job after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he was resigning from the job at the president's request. Trump had been furious with Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe.
That put Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in charge of the investigation, and he named former FBI director Mueller as special counsel.
Whitaker refused to follow in Sessions' footsteps and recuse himself, despite "informal" advice that he do so because of past comments criticizing the Mueller investigation. Last month officials said he had not been fully briefed on the investigation, but had been apprised of major developments.
Whitaker's comments came just days after Mueller's team charged longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone with obstruction, giving false statements and witness tampering in the sprawling case.
When Mueller is done with his investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian election interference, under the terms of the special counsel regulations, he'd give the report "explaining the prosecution or declination" decisions to Whitaker, who would have to decide what do to with it.
The Justice Department would be likely to make some aspect of the report public, sources have told NBC. House Democrats, who now have subpoena power, have said they will do everything they can to make sure its contents become public.