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This column first appeared on Creators.com.

When the Office of Special Counsel completes its assigned tasks and sends its findings to Attorney General William Barr, Americans will expect to learn what is in that document. Despite recurrent warnings that Barr can legally withhold some or even all of the “Mueller Report,” those expectations of transparency must be fulfilled.

The matters investigated by former FBI director Robert Mueller are so fundamental to the national interest that there is no alternative to full disclosure. It is a need that outweighs Justice Department policy designed to safeguard the reputation of individuals who are investigated but not charged with any crime.

Republicans seeking to protect Donald Trump from Mueller’s most damaging findings may cite that traditional policy to argue that Barr should refuse to release the final report that the Office of Special Counsel must send to him. But it is worth remembering how little attention was paid to such concerns when the partisan roles were reversed.

Almost exactly 17 years ago, on March 21, 2002, the Office of Independent Counsel released a five-volume, two-thousand-page-plus report under the anodyne title In re: Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan Association, the name of the tiny thrift institution that had financed Bill and Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated rural real estate investment — more popularly known as “Whitewater.” Given the failure to find any actual evidence that the Clintons had done anything wrong in that financial fiasco — except to trust their deranged partner Jim McDougal and lose about $40,000 — the final Whitewater report had to acknowledge their legal innocence.

But Robert Ray, the Republican prosecutor who had taken over preparation of the report from Kenneth W. Starr, deliberately sought to cast suspicion on the Clintons despite the fact that neither of them was ever charged in that investigation. (Ray may have believed that denigrating then-Senator Clinton would enhance his popularity among his fellow Republicans in New Jersey, where he was simultaneously seeking a U.S. Senate nomination, an ambition he abandoned within a few weeks.)

Throughout the final report’s tidal wave of turgid prose — at $73 million, or more than $33,000 per page, certainly among the costliest publications in human history — Ray tried to concede failure without exonerating the investigation’s main targets. To read the report was to see how stubbornly he and his fellow OIC prosecutors had evaded any obligation to simply admit that those targets were in fact innocent. Instead, the report repeatedly complained of “insufficient available evidence to establish [guilt] beyond a reasonable doubt” — and reviewed at great length all the evidence that supposedly indicated wrongdoing.

By March 2002, most Americans had long since forgotten what exactly Kenneth Starr, his persistent associates, and the Republicans who sponsored his inquest had ever hoped to prove. The Whitewater allegations were always vague and constantly shifting, as every headlined accusation quietly evaporated. The few clear and pertinent questions about the development deal and its financing were answered with finality by December 1995, a little more than a year after Starr took over the probe.

As the Whitewater final report showed, Starr’s prosecutors had spent years trying to prove that Hillary had once lied or concealed something — and to them the actual substance of the supposed lie didn’t really matter. They tried to prove that she had testified falsely about minor matters at her law firm, or whether McDougal had paid his legal bills on time. Taking up hundreds of pages of small print, Ray’s account of that phase of the investigation seemed numbingly pointless.

The notion that anyone might face criminal charges over such minutiae would have been hilarious, if it weren’t so sinister. Somehow the authoritarian style of prosecution didn’t seem to bother official Washington or the national press corps, which had swooned over every leak from Starr’s office.

In every respect, the matters currently under investigation by the Office of Special Counsel differ from the Whitewater fantasy. That “scandal” was inconsequential and essentially non-existent — while this scandal could hardly be more serious and pressing. The law is different now too, because the Independent Counsel Act was allowed to expire in 1999 after Starr’s embarrassing performance. Unlike the independent counsels of yore, mostly Republicans who ran rampant during Clinton’s administration, the special counsel is under direct Justice Department supervision and is expected to observe the department’s rules.

But if Attorney General Barr — or any other Republican official — argues that the president’s privacy must prevail over public interest in the Mueller final report, remember this. Their zealous prosecutors seized that last opportunity to tarnish Hillary Clinton in the Whitewater final report, although no charge could be sustained against her. And nobody in official Washington spoke a word of protest.

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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