Mueller day: What to look for when his redacted report is out

  • The dome of the Capitol is seen at sunrise Thursday in Washington.

    The dome of the Capitol is seen at sunrise Thursday in Washington. Associated Press

 
 

Attorney General William Barr is set to release a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report Thursday, and the document could leave everyone unsatisfied -- President Donald Trump, lawmakers and the public.

The report will provide the fullest portrait yet of Mueller's secretive 22-month probe, providing new insights into his findings, analysis and reasons for his conclusions on conspiring with Russia and obstruction of justice, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are holding a news conference Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in Washington to discuss the release. The report will be delivered to Congress -- on compact disc -- between 11 a.m. and noon, according to a Justice Department official.

Democrats quickly blasted Barr's plan to brief reporters ahead of releasing the report, with five House chairmen releasing a joint statement calling on Barr to cancel the news conference and "let the full report speak for itself."

The report itself will be colorful -- literally. Barr plans to hold back parts of the almost 400-page report, promising a color-coded system to identify the multiple reasons that certain information can't currently be shared with Congress or the public.

Those redactions may fuel frustrations on all sides, as well as additional political fights, legal challenges and lingering suspicion about the full extent of Mueller's findings. They also could frustrate a public thirsting for answers about Trump, Russia and his 2016 campaign.

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For Trump, who is ramping up his 2020 re-election bid, the report may cement Americans' views of him, either helping to lift the collusion cloud that has shrouded his presidency, or reigniting the push to dig into his affairs and his business.

In an interview Wednesday with WMAL radio in Washington, Trump predicted, "You'll see a lot of very strong things come out tomorrow."

Mueller spent nearly two years conducting one of the most consequential investigations in recent U.S. history into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump or any of his associates conspired in the operation. Here's what to look for in the final report:

According to the person familiar with the matter, the report is expected to answer one of the most urgent remaining questions: why Mueller declined to make a decision on whether to charge Trump with obstructing justice, something he spent months investigating.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The special counsel found there was evidence "on both sides of the question" of whether Trump obstructed justice and that his probe didn't "exonerate" the president, according to a four-page summary that Barr released last month.

Nonetheless, Barr and Rosenstein concluded that the evidence on obstruction didn't warrant a criminal charge after Mueller submitted his final report.

The document is close to 400 pages long, reflecting an investigation that issued more than 2,800 subpoenas and almost 500 search warrants. About 500 witnesses were interviewed, Barr told lawmakers. Mueller also provided a series of exhibits, including testimony, but it's unclear if any of that will be released.

Mueller's report isn't intended to be a comprehensive narrative that tries to reconstruct all the events of the 2016 campaign, or how Trump handled the investigation. Justice Department regulations say that Mueller should explain in a report to the attorney general the decisions that he made on who to prosecute, and he can choose to discuss additional relevant findings.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Barr is going beyond what's required under Justice Department regulations by sharing any of the report. The regulations require only that he inform Congress if the special counsel was prevented from taking a significant action. Barr has said there was no such situation.

Trump and his lawyers are bracing for new revelations that could be damaging to the president, his family members or close associates. They've spent months deriding the investigation as a "witch hunt," with the president repeatedly accusing Mueller's team of being biased against him.

The president's advisers have been preparing for any unfavorable findings by the special counsel, assembling a rebuttal to the chain of events they believe Mueller may describe. They're also poised to address the legal arguments for why Trump's actions don't amount to obstruction of justice -- the main area they've been concerned about when it came to Trump's legal jeopardy.

Trump and his allies have seized on Barr's summary of Mueller's findings to declare that the president was completely cleared by the special counsel. "Total EXONERATION," Trump tweeted last month. That narrative may get turned on its head by a more detailed version of the report, as every page and paragraph is picked apart looking for any newly disclosed questionable actions by Trump and his associates.

Key findings the report might reveal include examples of potential obstruction that have never been disclosed and whether Mueller indicated that he wanted Congress to decide ultimately whether Trump impeded the investigation.

Barr told lawmakers Mueller didn't establish that Trump or people associated with his campaign conspired with Russia in its campaign interference "despite multiple efforts by Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign."

But the report might reveal additional evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government that didn't rise to the level of charging a criminal conspiracy.

The report also might reveal who on the campaign directed longtime Trump associate Roger Stone to communicate with WikiLeaks about releasing information damaging to Democrat Hillary Clinton in the weeks before the election.

It could also shed light on the relationship between Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who Mueller prosecuted, and Konstantin Kilimnik, who Mueller has said has ties to Russian intelligence services. Kilimnik was indicted last year on conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The color-coded labels that Barr has said will give his reasons for redactions may include material involving grand jury proceedings, classified programs and ongoing investigations, as well as information that could damage the reputations of people "peripheral" to the investigation. Barr has said that he won't withhold damaging information about public officials, including Trump, just to protect their reputations.

The attorney general also could withhold details of internal White House deliberations, citing executive privilege. He told lawmakers on April 9 that he decided not to seek Trump's input and had "no plans" to assert the privilege traditionally asserted by presidents who say they need to be able to have private conversations.

That type of information could reveal Trump's conversations before he fired FBI director James Comey and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, as well as attempts the president made to fire other top Justice Department officials.

"A heavily redacted report should not be acceptable to anyone, especially if the report was redacted to protect the president or his associates," Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor in New York who's now a white-collar criminal defense lawyer, said.

The redactions could be extensive, if a filing on Monday by the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia is any clue. Prosecutors used that filing to bat back a request by The Washington Post to unseal redacted material in the criminal case against Manafort, who was sentenced to 90 months in jail in two separate cases.

Prosecutors said the redactions were intended to protect the privacy of uncharged third parties and investigations on "a number of matters'' that Mueller referred to other prosecutors -- two of the four reasons that Barr has cited for redacting the special counsel's report.

"It is unknown how long some of these investigations may remain ongoing,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis wrote. "And some of the privacy interests that are being protected may persist indefinitely.''

Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, took issue with Barr's plan to redact information related to "peripheral" persons during an April 9 hearing. "It seems to me that's an exception that you can drive a truck through," Case told Barr.

Democrats are prepared to issue subpoenas for the full, unredacted report as well as all of Mueller's underlying evidence, setting up a legal clash that could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

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