For weeks, journalists in Washington had been chasing tips that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 race for the White House was winding down. The probe had shadowed Donald Trump’s presidency nearly since its beginning, raising alarming questions about whether his campaign coordinated with Russia.
AP’s team that had covered the story every day for nearly two years knew the end of the investigation would be complex: Mueller would alert the Justice Department that he was finished, and Attorney General William Barr would decide how much of the report to make public. And it was unclear how long the process would take and how much information we would get.
But appetite for the story was huge. So, the Washington bureau went to work creating a comprehensive plan for coverage when the report landed and a wealth of content to satisfy our readers and our customers until that moment happened.
Eric Tucker, Justice Department reporter, and Chad Day, Trump investigations reporter, kicked off the coverage with a sweeping narrative of everything that had already been revealed by Mueller in his public indictments. The “Mueller in Plain Sight” story captured the scope of Mueller’s investigation and laid the groundwork for his final report.
Speculation reached a fever pitch the week of March 18. Tucker and law enforcement reporter Mike Balsamo alternated shifts at the Justice Department, but each day ended the same: not today, sources would say.
Meanwhile AP photographers and videojournalists started staking out Mueller and Barr. Photographer Andrew Harnik scored a beat with images of Mueller arriving at the Justice Department early Thursday morning, driving himself in a Subaru. It was the first image of the elusive Mueller by a news photographer in more than a year.
Word finally came on Friday afternoon that Mueller’s work had ended. Within minutes of moving an alert, the AP sent a series of richly reported stories by the team of reporters who had been at the forefront of AP’s coverage for months: Tucker, Day, Balsamo and Congress reporter Mary Clare Jalonick.
On Sunday morning, AP scored another visual scoop when freelance photographer Cliff Owen, who was shooting features across the street from the White House, learned that Mueller was at church nearby. Owen’s photos of Mueller exiting historic St. John’s church and passing the White House ricocheted around the internet.
Around 3:30 p.m., a Justice Department official handed reporters hard copies of Barr’s summary. Tucker, speaking on an open phone line back to the Washington bureau, calmly read off highlights of the report while Balsamo sent full quotes from the report to the group. AP’s first alert, that Mueller had not exonerated Trump on obstruction of justice, moved a full 10 minutes before the Washington Post and five minutes before the New York Times.
The video team also provided unmatched live coverage from a wide range of locations in Washington, at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and in New York throughout the weekend.
For their great planning, teamwork and execution, Eric Tucker, Chad Day, Mike Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Harnik and Cliff Owen win AP’s Best of the Week award.