Mueller report release tests Donald Trump exoneration claim
President Trump’s claim that Robert Mueller’s report is a total exoneration is about to be put to the test as what is known about the special counsel’s findings swells from four pages to nearly 400, undermining the White House’s ability to frame the narrative.
Mr. Trump has spent recent days trying to soften the ground before Thursday’s release, saying what matters is Attorney General William Barr’s top-line findings that there was no conspiracy with Russia to subvert the 2016 presidential election and not enough evidence to pursue an obstruction of justice case.
But the sprawling nature of the 22-month investigation is fueling concerns.
“There’s a little bit of uncertainty because people don’t really know what’s in it,” a former White House official said. “You put hundreds of witnesses under oath and you throw all these subpoenas around if there’s nothing controversial or embarrassing that’s disclosed, that would be kind of surprising.”
Mr. Trump has acknowledged he hasn’t read the report even while claiming exoneration.
That doesn’t make sense to Democrats, who figure they will see either evidence of bad behavior among the 400 pages or redactions so extensive that they can blame Mr. Barr of a cover-up.
“We have very smart people who will be reading it,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Tuesday in a CNN interview.
Indeed, all of Washington will be studying the report. That includes members of the president’s inner circle who, according to NBC News, are fretting about the help they provided to Mr. Mueller.
Fearing retribution from an angry president, some of those presidential confidants have been reaching out to the Justice Department to see whether they will be named as collaborators in Mr. Mueller’s findings. The department has refused to offer any solace.
One person close to the White House told NBC that the hysteria has reached “breakdown-level anxiety.”
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has maintained a consistent line. “No Collusion No Obstruction!” he tweeted Tuesday.
The report is expected in the morning, igniting a day of study and reaction.Bookmakers were offering odds on how Mr. Trump would react, such as how many times he will use “exonerate” or “exonerated.” BookMaker.eu put the over-under at 1.5 times.
One of Mr. Trump’s attorneys, Rudolph W. Giuliani, told Politico that the president will release a counterreport Thursday that runs more than 30 pages.Yet a former White House official told The Washington Times that the president’s team isn’t expecting anything that will change the narrative that Mr. Trump was investigated for two years without prosecutors touching him.
“It just may be a bad news cycle,” the source said. “In 400 pages, there will probably be a few things.”
Democrats say they are not sure the nearly 400 pages Mr. Barr has promised will tell them much, given that he has said every page has information that could demand redaction to protect classified information, grand jury testimony or ongoing, spinoff investigations.
“Just call it The Barr Report. Just in time for Easter, it will be a crazy quilt of colors designed to cover up key facts and, almost more important, break the flow and diminish the power of the Mueller Report as written,” tweeted Elizabeth de la Vega, who served as a federal prosecutor for more than two decades.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has said Congress must see the full report without redactions.
Mr. Barr has promised to work with Congress on revealing classified information but has resisted demands to break grand jury secrecy.
Democrats are especially eager to see what Mr. Mueller says about obstruction of justice after the special counsel specifically said the report was not an exoneration.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is trying to keep the public focused on Mr. Mueller’s bigger conclusion that there was no criminal conspiracy with Russia undercutting the narrative that launched the lengthy investigation.
“The greatest Scam in political history,” he tweeted Tuesday. “If the Mainstream Media were honest, which they are not, this story would be bigger and more important than Watergate. Someday!”
Outside-the-Beltway analysts said the president’s focus could color how the report is seen.
“It does make it difficult for Democrats to make clear to the public what the president did that did constitute abuse of power. It’s about agenda-setting,” said Julian E. Zelizer, a politics professor at Princeton University.
⦁ Jeff Mordock and Bailey Vogt contributed to this report.