Trump's attorney general may refuse to attend congressional hearing on Mueller report, officials says
For months Donald Trump and his White House staff appeared to be losing the information game over the Mueller Report.
At times last year not a week seemed to go by without a former member of Trump’s election team or those close to him facing indictments, guilty pleas or court cases as part of the probe or its connected investigations. It only seemed a matter of time, amid regular angry tweets about the probe from the president, before the president found himself in hot water.
But the Justice Department, and by extension the White House, has been able to take back control of the narrative in a way that seemed extremely unlikely a few weeks ago.
First there was the announcement from attorney General William Barr - with little context from the actual report - that there was “no collusion” between Mr Trump’s campaign and Russians who interfered in the 2016 election. It was made clear that the special counsel Robert Mueller did not make a determination on any potential case for Mr Trump obstructing the course of justice.
Democrats cried foul about the wait to release a redacted report, with the question over potential obstruction of justice a key one.
Today, Barr - in a measured tone not usually seen by the White House - spoke of the redacted report at least an hour before it was released. He held what could only loosely be called a press conference, where the journalists were unprepared to ask questions of him, or his methods.
He was asked about the lack of Mueller’s presence with him at the podium. He said that Mueller was only required to produce a report for him, the attorney general and no more. Mr Barr was clear it was his report to present.
His tone could easily be construed as pro-White House and Democrats, who were still waiting for the report, were quick to call it so. His tone could easily be construed as pro-White House and Democrats, who were still waiting for the report, were quick to call it so. Indeed Barr felt more like an attorney for the president than the attorney general at times during his address.
The leading Democrats in both the House, Nancy Peolsi, and the Senate, Chuck Schumer, tore into Barr. And with good reason, his statement was essentially perfect from the White House’s point of view. Schumer called it a “campaign press conference” for Mr Trump and Ms Pelsoi went further. “Barr has confirmed the staggering partisan effort by the Trump administration to spin the public’s view of the Mueller report.”
Mr Barr spoke about 10 episodes in which Mr Mueller had evaluated the potential of instruction of justice. Mr Barr said he, and his deputy Rod Rosenstein, had disagreed with Mr Mueller’s legal arguments and therefore there was no case to answer on obstruction.
With redacted reports there will always be the argument that more has been removed that is needed, but the truth is Mr Trump, his justice department and the White House, own the narrative.
Mr Trump’s personal lawyer has been able to see the redacted report ahead of the public and Congress, allowing them the time to craft a response. Mr Mueller took 22 months to craft his report, reporters and Congress will have to digest it very quickly to battle Mr Trump’s PR machine.
While Congressional committees will no doubt call Mr Mueller to testify. Indeed the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler has already asked for Mueller to appear, saying: “We cannot take Attorney General Barr's word for it”.
However, that could take weeks, giving the White House crucial time to flood the airwaves and shape the narrative. There is also a quick-fire counter report - or rather two, a short one in the hours after the release and a longer one a little later - which the White House has a large team working on.
The biggest takeaway for the White House is the lack of collusion. But the more that can be done to muddy the waters over Mr Mueller’s lack of determination over any obstruction of justice, the better for Mr Trump.
Democrats will have to work hard to get the deeper conclusions of the Mueller report into the public consciousness - and may not be able to. The president and his team are in a far greater position than they ever could have expected six months ago.