Mueller report not coming next week: senior U.S. Justice official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Special Counsel Robert Mueller will not deliver his long-awaited report next week on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, a senior U.S. Justice Department official said on Friday, amid expectations that the report was imminent.

“Any reports that the Special Counsel’s report will be delivered to the DOJ (Department of Justice) during the week of Feb. 28 are incorrect,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The 21-month Mueller investigation, also focused on possible obstruction of justice, has been a dark cloud over Donald Trump’s presidency, with reports of its conclusion being imminent appearing frequently in recent weeks.

CNN reported on Wednesday that the Justice Department may announce as early as next week that Mueller had given his report to Attorney General William Barr and that Barr would review the findings and submit a summary to Congress.

Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly said there was no collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia, and he has called the investigation a witch hunt. Russia has denied interfering in the election.

So far, 34 individuals and three companies have pleaded guilty, been indicted or otherwise been swept up in the inquiry.

Congress has authorized funding for Mueller’s team to continue its inquiry until the end of the current federal fiscal year on Sept. 30, although that does not necessarily mean the investigation will go on that long.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s team, said it still employs 12 lawyers. Four lawyers left in recent months, but individually, not in a group, Carr confirmed.

Speculation about the timing of Mueller report’s release has been accompanied by questions about whether it will be made public once it is completed.

Six chairmen of committees in the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Friday wrote to Barr saying that the report should be made public “without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law.”

Asked about the release of the report, Trump told reporters on Friday that he had not spoken to Barr about it. Trump added: “There was no collusion, there was no obstruction.”

In a related matter, the Manhattan district attorney is pursuing criminal charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, whether or not Trump pardons him for his federal convictions, a person familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The charges originate from unpaid state taxes and likely are also related to loans, according to the source.

Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington and Karen Freifeld in New York; Writing by Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and James Dalgleish