Long-awaited document to be released on Thursday could shed light on details of evidence gathered during two-year Trump-Russia investigation
Robert Mueller was appointed almost two years ago to investigate potential ties between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP
Almost two years after Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate potential ties between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, the American people will finally read his report on Thursday – albeit in redacted form.
The public release of the 400-page Mueller report marks a significant moment for a country on tenterhooks over what the former FBI director has uncovered. It marks the first time that US citizens and members of Congress will be able to hear from the special counsel directly rather than through the lens of his Department of Justice bosses or the media.
In the lead-up to the report’s release, the White House was in a defensive crouch. Justice department officials provided lawyers close to Trump with briefings on the content of the report in advance of its release, the New York Times reported Wednesday, assisting the White House in the preparation of a rebuttal to a document that Trump previously claimed had “totally exonerated” him.
The report will be issued by the Department of Justice in paper form at its headquarters in Washington DC and online, sometime on Thursday morning. William Barr, the attorney general, will hold a news conference at 9.30am ET, after which the redacted report will be delivered to Congress.
Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House judiciary committee, called a news conference late Wednesday to criticize the multi-step rollout and to accuse Barr of attempting to prejudice the public reception of the report in favor of the White House.
“The fact that the attorney general is not releasing even the redacted report to Congress until after his press conference will again result in the report being presented in his own words, rather than in the words of special counsel Robert Mueller,” Nadler said.
“The central concern here is that attorney general Barr is not allowing the facts of the Mueller report to speak for themselves, but is instead trying to bake in the narrative about the report to the benefit of the White House.”
Just how revelatory the document is, and how much it puts to rest the partisan dispute that has raged ceaselessly in Washington since Mueller was appointed in May 2017, will depend on the extent of its redactions.
Barr has insisted the redactions are necessary for legal reasons involving material gathered secretly by a grand jury and evidence in other continuing criminal cases. But Democrats are suspicious, given the fact that Barr was handpicked by Trump to head the justice department and the speed with which he rushed out a four-page summary of the Mueller report – a summary that was generally favorable to the president.
One of the most important questions that will be raised by Thursday’s release is whether Barr’s brief summary is true to Mueller’s original report.
Democratic leaders in Congress are unlikely in any case to be satisfied until they have seen the complete, unredacted version. Nadler has indicated that he will subpoena the justice department for the full document potentially as soon as Friday.
There will be much riding on what emerges from the report. Criminal charges have been ruled out after Barr said that he and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, had decided there was insufficient evidence to establish that Trump had committed obstruction of justice.
But it remains a possibility, though unlikely, that Democratic leaders in the House will see material in the report that merits the framing of impeachment charges against the president. Last month Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, said that she was not in favour of impeaching Trump as “he’s just not worth it”.
The Mueller report could still provide political ammunition against Trump as the president seeks re-election in next year’s presidential contest.
The document is expected to fall into two clear sections.
The first will look at Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race and the question of any involvement in that effort by the Trump campaign. Barr’s summary quoted Mueller as saying “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated” with Russia, but it remains to be seen whether that sentence was taken out of context.
The second part will deal with the obstruction of justice allegations. Trump aroused suspicions that he tried to impede the work of the FBI after it emerged that he had put pressure on the then head of the agency, James Comey, to end an investigation into the Russia links of the former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Trump previously told NBC news during an interview on camera, on his decision to fire Comey: “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”
Though Barr decided that evidence was lacking for a criminal charge, his summary did make the point that Mueller was ambivalent on the subject. The special counsel opted to make no prosecutorial judgment – neither accusing Trump of any crime nor exonerating him.