by Morgan Chalfant · April 13, 2019
Attorney General William Barr is expected to release a restricted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report sometime next week, leaving Washington on edge with questions about its contents.
Barr already laid out what he described as Mueller’s bottom-line conclusions in a four-page letter, saying the special counsel did not find evidence to establish that members of the Trump campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.
Barr also said Mueller did not come to a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice. However, the attorney general reviewed the evidence and found it insufficient to accuse Trump of obstruction.
Those details are all that Congress and the public have received from the Justice Department about Mueller’s 22-month probe since it ended three weeks ago, and they have dramatically increased the appetite for a glimpse at the special counsel’s closing documentation.
Here are five things to watch for once Barr provides more of the report to Congress.
How much of it is redacted?
It remains unclear how much of Mueller’s near 400-page report the public will actually see.
Barr has said he intends to restrict details that fall into four categories: grand jury material that is subject to federal secrecy rules, information that could reveal intelligence sources and methods, details that could compromise ongoing investigations spun off from Mueller’s probe, and information that could impact the privacy of “peripheral” third parties.
The result could be a heavily redacted document with pages upon pages of blacked out print.
The names of public officials like Trump will not be redacted, but the Justice Department has a longstanding practice of not publicly naming private citizens caught up in investigations who are not being charged.
Barr could transmit more details than the public sees to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including classified material, but he has signaled he will not do so until after releasing the public version of the report and consulting with the relevant committees.
What does it reveal about Mueller’s obstruction inquiry?
Mueller’s decision to not make a call on obstruction of justice is the biggest current mystery in the report.
Barr’s letter said Mueller did not explicitly “exonerate” Trump on obstruction, and that the report analyzes various actions by Trump and “sets out evidence on both sides of the question” without making a final judgment.
Barr did not discuss any of the evidence collected by Mueller in his letter, and he has repeatedly refused to answer questions about the specifics.
News reports have only amplified the mystery.
The New York Times and Washington Post reported last week that some of Mueller’s investigators were unsatisfied with Barr’s description of the findings and indicated the contents of the special counsel’s report were more damaging for the president than the attorney general portrayed.
The obstruction section is far less likely to be heavily redacted, given that most of Trump’s conduct took place in public view. Indeed, Barr told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday that he believed the key factual evidence related to the obstruction inquiry would be in the public report.
Who does it say about contacts with Russians?
Barr’s letter put an end to speculation that Mueller would find a conspiracy between Moscow and Trump or members of his presidential campaign.
But it said nothing about the specific contacts between the campaign and Russians that Mueller analyzed or the evidence that the special counsel turned up in the course of his 22-month investigation, which included issuing roughly 2,800 subpoenas, executing nearly 500 search warrants, and interviewing some 500 witnesses.
Many contacts between the campaign and Russia have already been subject to public reporting or disclosure. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, for example, pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his talks with the Russian ambassador in a deal to cooperate with Mueller’s probe.
Trump has also admitted that the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his members of his campaign and family and a Kremlin-linked lawyer was arranged to receive “opposition research” on his opponent Hillary Clinton; participants of the meeting say that it did not bear fruit.
The report is likely to offer a more intimidate glance at the conduct examined by Mueller’s investigators, including what Flynn, Michael Cohen and other Trump associates detailed in the course of their cooperation with the investigation.
Barr’s letter also includes a passing reference to the “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign” in a section discussing the Kremlin’s theft and release of Democratic emails – suggesting the special counsel’s report discusses those contacts in greater detail.
What will Congress do?
House Democrats are demanding access to Mueller’s full report, including grand jury and classified material, accusing Barr of bias in his handling of the document.
Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has threatened to subpoena for the report and plans to go to court to ask a judge to release the information from the grand jury to Congress.
Barr said this week he is “willing to work” with the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on getting them more information, including classified details, but only after the public version is out. He has thus far declined to join House Democrats in petitioning for the release of the grand jury material, however.
It is unclear precisely how long House Democrats will wait to move on a subpoena if Barr does not meet their demands. Nadler said this week he would subpoena for the report “very quickly” if Barr sends a heavily restricted version to Congress.
“Anything short of the entire report and underlying evidence would be inadequate,” Nadler told reporters.
How does Trump react?
Trump has seized on Barr’s letter as complete vindication, attacked Democrats who alleged “collusion” between his campaign and Moscow, and demanded an investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation – calling it an “attempted coup.”
The president and his Republican allies have taken a three-week victory lap, while Mueller’s bottom-line conclusions left liberals who were hungering for a Russian conspiracy charge disappointed.
It’s unclear how much the release of Mueller’s report will change the dynamic.
While Barr’s letter says the report will not lay bare evidence to charge a criminal conspiracy between Trump associates and Russia, it will undoubtedly dredge up old controversies, like the Trump Tower meeting, and could provide new fodder for critics of the president.
Trump is already pleased with his new attorney general, particularly after Barr said this week he would be reviewing whether there was “improper surveillance” on members of the Trump campaign and suggested the campaign was “spied” on.
But the tides could change if the report yields negative headlines for the president.
Barr has said he does not plan to allow the White House to review the report to make claims of executive privilege before he releases it publicly. Trump said Wednesday he had not seen the report and that he didn’t “care” about it.
“I have not read the Mueller report. I won. No collusion, no obstruction. I won,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn before a trip to Texas. “As far as I’m concerned I don’t care about the Mueller report. I’ve been totally exonerated.”
The Hill · by Morgan Chalfant · April 13, 2019