Some Democrats have been demanding the immediate release, in full, of the Mueller report to the public. This demand has been echoed on social media. This is a terrible idea — it is bad for our national security and bad politics. 

We do not know what is in the Mueller report but it likely contains classified  information. The subject matter of Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE's investigation was Russian meddling in the 2016 election which likely generated a great deal classified foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information. By definition, information is "classified" if its release would cause damage to the national security. If classified at the SECRET level, “serious damage” is anticipated, and if designated TOP SECRET, then “grave damage” could be threatened.


Mueller’s report may contain information provided to him by elements of the intelligence community — primarily the CIA (collection from human sources overseas), the NSA (collection of signals intelligence) and the FBI (collection of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence domestically). Hypothetically, this information could include a senior Russian official clandestinely recruited by the CIA, a telephone in the Kremlin listened to by the NSA, or a Russian diplomat here in the U.S. talking secretly to the FBI. The information could also come by a longer route, through similar types of sources, but provided to us by the intelligence or law enforcement services of other countries.   

Classified information was also likely gathered directly by Mueller’s team, through interviews, subpoenas, or documents and testimony given to the grand jury. Some of these sources may have been willing to talk only behind closed doors, fearing retribution from other countries, individuals, or even the Trump administration. This promise of secrecy was critical to the Mueller investigators, and to investigations in the future, to get everything they needed to do their jobs successfully. 

These sources of information are critical to our national security, particularly now. If, as the intelligence community has already concluded, the report does reveal Russian efforts to influence, maybe destabilize, American democracy, then these sources of information, and others not yet found, will be critical to protect our nation in the months leading up to the 2020 election, and after. But if the report is publicly released, it may, in turn, reveal these sources. Foreign nations, embarrassed and endangered by the breach of trust, may stop sharing information with our intelligence agencies. Phones and emails will be changed, diplomats in the U.S. will be recalled or surveilled, and human sources in Russia, if we have them, will be at risk for arrest or assassination. In the future our adversaries will be more careful. Countries and individuals contemplating assisting us will think twice.  

If you were a Russian official thinking of talking to a U.S. intelligence officer, would you risk your freedom or your life to help the U.S. in the face of media headlines that Congress is demanding public release of information promised on the condition of secrecy?

Though public release of the classified information in the Mueller report is deeply problematic, and its underlying materials, release to the House and Senate Intelligence committees is appropriate, and should in some cases have already happened. These committees handle responsibly the most sensitive classified information every day and use that information -- as Article I of the Constitution anticipated --  for oversight, to inform legislative priorities and to allocate resources. These functions could not be more vital now, as our government seeks to prevent Russian intervention in the 2020 elections.

Finally, the protection of classified information from public release is not only a national security issue, but also bad politics. It feeds into President TrumpDonald John Trump Trump responds to calls to tear down monuments with creation of 'National Garden' of statues Trump: Children are taught in school to 'hate their own country' Trump accuses those tearing down statues of wanting to 'overthrow the American Revolution' MORE's wildest accusations. Democrats demanding public release of materials -- that they themselves have not even seen -- don’t appear to care about the Russian threat, or our ability to counter that threat using our intelligence capabilities. They appear, and perhaps are, seeking to score political points and to undermine the president. This strategy only fuels Republican charges that that those who profess such concern about Russian interference are willing to endanger the very sources and methods that will be needed to resist that interference in the future.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats hit Trump for handling of Russian bounty allegations after White House briefing Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Democrats face tough questions with Bolton MORE (D-Calif.) and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler wins Democratic primary Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Clyburn threatens to end in-person coronavirus committee hearings if Republicans won't wear masks MORE (D-N.Y.) have it right: they should demand, and receive, a report without redactions for classified information. Then they can carry out their oversight and legislative functions, while still protecting national security, and preserving the necessary secrets which allow our intelligence agencies to keep us safe.

Steven Cash is Washington, D.C. counsel at Day Pitney LLP and former Chief Counsel to Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBottom line Filibuster reform gains steam with Democrats Senate panel votes 21-1 to back Justice IG measure over Graham objections MORE (D-Calif.) and a former Intelligence Officer with the Central Intelligence Agency.