As We Wait for Attorney General Barr to Release the Mueller Report, What Foundations Should Do

April 12, 2019

Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report — and anticipation for the report itself — have captivated the interest of the American people and a divided Congress, with jubilation from the president’s supporters and disappointment from his critics.

But the success of the special counsel’s investigation should not be measured by those whose political interests are best served. Rather, its completion should go down in history as a victory for the rule of law — that is, as long as the full report and supporting documents are released to the public.

Congress and the American people must have the opportunity to understand the truth of what happened to be in a better position both to protect future elections and to restore faith in our democratic norms.

Foundations are in a unique position to pave the way forward by investing in causes that further both of these goals.

Integrity of the Ballot Box

There are two core priorities philanthropy can support to protect the tenets of our democracy.

First, we must protect the integrity of our elections. The health of our democracy requires public trust in our electoral systems. The Mueller investigation — both through its current indictments and what will presumably be laid out in the report — should help us get to the bottom of how a foreign power interfered with the 2016 election.

Thanks to the investigators’ efforts, we will have the product of more than 2,800 subpoenas, nearly 500 search warrants, more than 230 orders for communication records, 13 requests of foreign governments, and approximately 500 interviews with witnesses to learn from.

The American public must demand to see the report so we can identify opportunities to bolster our election system. This would allow foundations to invest in work that promotes election modernization, development of data-driven policies, and advancements in new technologies that help reduce barriers to voting. In addition, we need to work with nonprofits seeking to strategically provide secretaries of state and local election boards with the resources to maintain the system’s integrity. Without the partisan distraction of alleged collusion, leaders from both parties can get serious about protecting our democracy from manipulation.

An Independent Justice System

Second, we must protect the rule of law and the independence of our justice system. It is easy to forget that months ago, it was unclear whether the special counsel would be allowed to complete his investigation. We should all be grateful for efforts made over the past two years to protect the independence of the investigation, despite unrelenting pressure from the president and his allies.

Once the report is provided to Congress, it will have its own constitutional responsibility to exercise oversight, thoroughly investigate the underlying evidence, and consider appropriate policies for the future. The attorney general’s conclusion that there is insufficient evidence to establish that the president committed a crime by obstructing justice is not the end of the matter. Only by digging into the facts can the public be sure justice has been served.

New York State’s Inquiry

Foundation leaders also must defend continuing investigations by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere to ensure they are able to complete their work without interference. These investigations, equally representative of the rule of law at work, are looking into deeply important questions related to the integrity of our government — including potential conflicts of interest. They must be allowed to continue unimpeded.

For philanthropy, investing in nonprofit work that protects this oversight is a crucial way to protect our democracy. Remember that Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation convicted five associates of the president’s and indicted 34 people on nearly 200 criminal charges. The special counsel’s job was not to attack or convict Donald Trump. It was to uncover the truth and ensure justice is done. The special counsel has been able to complete his investigation, and by working together to support and galvanize programs and organizations that uphold our constitutional norms, we can still achieve our goal of a strengthened, vibrant democracy.


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