WASHINGTON – Not all of Robert Mueller’s findings will be news to President Donald Trump when they are released Thursday morning.
Justice Department officials have had numerous conversations with White House lawyers about the conclusions made by Mueller, the special counsel, in recent days, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. The talks have aided the president’s legal team as it prepares a rebuttal to the report and strategizes for the coming public war over its findings.
A sense of paranoia is taking hold among some of Trump’s aides, some of whom fear Trump’s backlash more than the findings themselves, the people said. The report might make clear which of Trump’s current and former advisers spoke to the special counsel, how much they said and how much damage they did to the president — providing a kind of road map for retaliation.
The discussions between Justice Department officials and White House lawyers have also added to questions about the propriety of the decisions by Attorney General William Barr since he received Mueller’s findings late last month.
Barr and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, determined that Trump did not illegally obstruct justice and said the special counsel found no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia’s 2016 election interference. Barr told lawmakers that officials were “spying” on the Trump campaign, raised ominous historical parallels with the illegal surveillance of Vietnam War protesters and pointedly declined to rebut charges that Mueller’s investigators were engaged in a “witch hunt.”
Spokespeople for the White House and the Justice Department declined to comment. Barr, who plans to hold a news conference at 8:30 a.m. Central time Thursday to discuss the special counsel’s report, refused to answer questions from lawmakers last week about whether the department had given the White House a preview of Mueller’s findings.
The Justice Department has not said when the report will be released. Lawmakers are expected to receive the report by midday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter.
Much is at stake for Barr in Thursday’s expected release, especially if the report presents a far more damning portrayal of the president’s behavior — and of his campaign’s dealings with Russians — than the attorney general indicated in the four-page letter he wrote in March. That letter generated anger among some members of Mueller’s team, who believed it failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and have told associates that the report was more troubling for Trump than Barr indicated.
Justice Department rules do not require Barr to make the special counsel’s report public, and the attorney general’s defenders say he will fulfill pledges of transparency he made during his confirmation hearings to make as much of the document public as possible. Even a redacted report is likely to answer some outstanding questions.
Democrats on Capitol Hill, armed with subpoena power and deeply mistrustful of Barr’s motivations since he was first nominated, have pressed for more and believe they could soon have the upper hand.
They have already demanded the full text of the report and access to the underlying evidence they say is necessary for continuing congressional inquiries into foreign influence and obstruction of justice.
The information that Justice Department officials have provided to the White House could potentially be valuable for Trump’s legal team as it finalizes a rebuttal to the Mueller report — expected to be released not long after the department makes the special counsel’s findings public. Trump’s advisers insist they still do not know many details about Mueller’s conclusions.
The president’s aides have devised a strategy whereby numerous lawyers and political aides will quickly read different parts of the document to develop a rebuttal strategy, according to people briefed on the plan.