Ahead of the scheduled Thursday morning release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, allies of President Trump have a simple message: Move along, nothing to see here.
Bolstered by the knowledge that Attorney General William Barr has already declared he would not charge Trump with obstruction of justice and that Mueller’s investigation found no evidence of collusion with Russia, multiple sources close to the president said they were confident the report wouldn’t damage the White House. However, their dismissal of the report comes as critics of the president and legal experts suggested damaging revelations from Mueller’s investigation may have been swept under the rug.
One source close to the White House told Yahoo News on Thursday that they were not worried about Mueller’s report on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential cooperation from Trump’s campaign with those efforts. The source pointed to Barr’s summary, which was released last month and quoted Mueller as saying his “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
“The conclusion is already out there, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize there’s nothing too damaging in there,” the source said of Mueller’s report.
The source further said the “administration scuttlebutt” was that some officials had seen the report and concluded that “it’s going to be less bad than even what people today have expected” in the wake of Barr’s summary.
Based on Barr’s summary, there is the potential that Mueller’s full report could include descriptions of unseemly behavior that the attorney general did not feel rose to the level of a crime. However, without criminal charges, the source said they were confident that any controversy over information in the report would blow over.
Trump’s allies are also betting on the timing of the report’s release — just before two major religious holidays leading into the weekend — will help dampen any potential media storm.
“The reality is this is a 24-hour to 72-hour news cycle and nothing more,” the source said, after noting the report’s Thursday release would be coming just ahead of the Easter and Passover holidays.
“If there’s no collusion or obstruction charge, there’s probably nothing in there that people will be talking about past the weekend,” said the source.
While Barr’s summary indicated Mueller did not find evidence anyone on Trump’s campaign cooperated with Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, it was less clear cut on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr wrote that Mueller “did not draw a conclusion one way or the other” about whether Trump’s conduct constituted obstruction and instead left it to the attorney general to decide whether the actions uncovered by the investigation were criminal. Barr decided “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
Trump’s team is also clearly prepared to fight back against any unflattering elements of the report. Tim Murtaugh, communications director for Trump’s re-election campaign, responded to questions about the report on Tuesday with a brief, blistering statement that simultaneously predicted the document would exonerate the president and also went on the offensive.
“We know that President Trump will — once again — be vindicated: no collusion and no obstruction. The tables should turn now, as it is time to investigate the liars who instigated the sham investigation in the first place,” Murtaugh said.
Murtaugh’s comments echoed arguments Trump has made repeatedly since Mueller launched his probe in mid-2017. The president regularly blasted the investigation as a partisan “witch hunt.”
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is a member of the president’s personal legal team, also said he was “not concerned” about the Mueller report. Giuliani described how Trump’s attorneys will attempt to issue their own rebuttal after the report is released on Thursday.
“We will issue a shorter and then later a more detailed analysis in 40 pages or less,” Giuliani wrote in a text message to Yahoo News.
But as Trump’s inner circle projected a confident front, Democrats raised concerns that Barr could be covering for the president by redacting key portions of Mueller’s report. In a tweet posted Wednesday evening, Democratic presidential candidate and California Rep. Eric Swalwell called for the release of Mueller’s complete report and dismissed Barr as an advocate for Trump.
“Newsflash: no one wants to hear from Barr. Show us the full report. You should never have been confirmed and at best should be recused. We don’t need a statement from the President’s legal team,” Swalwell wrote.
Democrats have expressed doubts about Barr since his appointment as attorney general in February. Some of their concerns stem from the fact Barr sent the White House an unsolicited memo criticizing Mueller’s probe before he was nominated by Trump to lead the Justice Department.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, also suggested Barr’s release of a redacted version of the report was an effort to protect the president in a tweet Wednesday evening.
“Total exoneration is obviously what’s happening tomorrow, which is why they aren’t just uploading the thing and letting the public read it and decide for themselves,” Schatz wrote.
The source close to the White House rejected the notion Barr would attempt to excessively redact Mueller’s report. They pointed to the fact Barr has indicated his redactions will be color-coded to indicate the reasons behind them. This goes beyond what is required by law and the source described it as proof the attorney general is being “fully transparent.”
“What it really comes down to is that people are upset for political reasons,” the source said of concerns about redactions. “They want to see the president and those close to him embarrassed, regardless of whether they committed any crime.”
The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney who was fired by Trump in early 2017, discussed the release of the Mueller report at an event on Wednesday in New York City, at which he provided a barometer for judging Barr’s redactions. Bharara theorized that Mueller’s examination of obstruction would touch much less on ongoing investigations — one of the justifications for withholding specific information — and, therefore, should include far less redactions than the elements of the report about Russia.
“It is the part of the report that is much more worrisome to the president, potentially much more damaging to the president, and simultaneously it should lend itself to fewer redactions,” he said.
Bharara also noted that the amount of redactions in the portion of Mueller’s report dealing with obstruction would be “one of the first things” he’ll examine to evaluate Barr’s handling of the report.
“If we don’t see a lot of the obstruction side, then that would make me worry about the good faith of the redactions,” said Bharara.
However Barr handled the redactions, a recent court filing indicated some members of Congress could see a more complete version of Mueller’s report than the one that will be publicly released tomorrow. Justice Department attorneys on Wednesday filed a document in the case of former Trump adviser Roger Stone, who is being tried on charges that originated from Mueller’s probe, outlining a plan to provide Congress with a more detailed copy of the report.
“Once the redacted version of the report has been released to the public, the Justice Department plans to make available for review by a limited number of Members of Congress and their staff a copy of the Special Counsel’s report without certain redactions,” the prosecutors wrote.
And while Mueller’s probe is finished, there appear to be separate ongoing investigations that have been developed based on the special counsel’s work. In his summary of the Mueller report, Barr wrote that “the special counsel also referred several matters to other offices for further action.”
But Trump’s inner circle is insisting they are unfazed by the ongoing investigations generated by Mueller’s work. The source close to the White House brushed off the possibility that the other probes could create a risk for the president.
“No one actually in the orbit that I’ve spoken to is very concerned by it,” the source said.
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