How much is the Mueller investigation costing? (updated)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller leaves the U.S. Capitol on June 21, 2017. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller leaves the U.S. Capitol on June 21, 2017. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump has periodically taken shots at the cost of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s impact on the 2016 presidential election. A new document released by the Justice Department details just how much it has cost -- and it isn’t as high as the $40 million that Trump has alleged.

Here’s a rundown.

Looking at direct costs only

The Mueller investigation is being funded through mandatory spending, which essentially means it is set up to be free of executive branch influence. However, Justice Department officials do have a degree of oversight to make sure that money isn’t wasted, as with any other department office. The budgeted amount is determined by the acting attorney general and has not been disclosed publicly, the office said.

Mueller’s office has released three accountings of its expenses so far.

The first report was released in December 2017, and it covered the first four and a half months of the probe, from May 17 to Sept. 30, 2017.

According to this first report, the Mueller investigation spent $3.2 million directly during that period. The biggest category was $1.7 million for staff salaries and benefits, while the second-largest was for equipment. Smaller categories included travel, rent, utilities and supplies.

The second report was released in May 2018, covering the next six months of the probe, from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018.

This report showed that the investigation spent $4.5 million directly in this second period, making the total in direct costs so far $7.7 million.

Then, on Dec. 14, the office released its data covering April 1 to Sept. 30, 2018.

This report showed that the office spent $4.6 million, bringing the total to $12.3 million.

Adding indirect costs

The special counsel’s office says the investigation has also incurred "indirect" costs, a category it says is "neither legally required" for disclosure nor reported in filings by previous special counsels.

Mueller’s office argues that these indirect expenses don’t amount to additional taxpayer expenditures, since these resources — especially personnel, such as employees of the FBI or other agencies — would have been devoted to other cases if there had been no special counsel investigation.

For the first period, there were $3.5 million in indirect costs, and for the second period there were $5.5 million in indirect costs. For the third period, it was $3.9 million. That’s $12.9 million in all.

So, if you add up the direct and indirect costs through Sept. 30, 2018, it works out to $25.2 million.

Fiscal year

Start date

End date

Direct spending

Indirect spending

Total spent

2017

May 17, 2017

Sept. 30, 2017

$3.2 million

$3.5 million

$6.7 million

2018 (1st half)

Oct. 1, 2017

March 30, 2018

$4.5 million

$5.5 million

$10 million

2018 (2nd half)

April 1, 2018

Sept. 30, 2018

$4.6 million

$3.9 million

$8.5 million

2019

Oct 1, 2018

Sept. 30, 2019

Not yet reported

Not yet reported

Not yet reported

Total

   

$12.3 million

$12.9 million

$25.2 million

 

Factoring in the three additional months that have passed — October, November and December 2018 — could plausibly get the costs up to $27 million or so. That’s well below the $40 million figure Trump tweeted about on Nov. 29.

It could have gotten that high if spending accelerated dramatically in the past three months. If that’s the case, it hasn’t been made public.

How does the Mueller investigation compare historically?

As we’ve reported, the investigation of President Bill Clinton over Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky — headed by Kenneth Starr and then by his successor, Robert Ray — cost upward of $52 million over half a decade. Another $40 million-plus went toward a handful of other Clinton-era independent counsel investigations.

Meanwhile, the investigation of Reagan administration officials over the Iran-Contra Affair, headed by Lawrence Walsh, topped out at more than $47 million over a roughly similar period.

Those figures are direct costs only, and are not adjusted for inflation. Their price tags would be far higher if converted to 2018 dollars.