Trump faces fresh onslaught with release of Mueller report

US AG could come under intensified fire over his response to special counsel’s findings

US attorney general William Barr is seen outside the department of justice in Washington, DC, on Tuesday. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

US attorney general William Barr is seen outside the department of justice in Washington, DC, on Tuesday. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

 

Almost a month after US attorney general William Barr declared that Donald Trump had not obstructed justice in the federal inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the president is still trying to defend himself.

“No Collusion – No Obstruction!” Mr Trump tweeted twice on Tuesday as he geared up for the release of the report produced by special counsel Robert Mueller following his two-year investigation.

Mr Barr will issue a redacted version of the Mueller report on Thursday – following intense pressure to release the full document in the wake of his initial four-page summary to Congress last month. Democrats are preparing for a protracted fight over the report and have urged the attorney general to keep redactions to a minimum.

In his summary, Mr Barr said Mr Mueller had not established that Mr Trump conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election. On the question of whether the president had tried to obstruct justice, however, he noted that Mr Mueller had said his report did not conclude that Mr Trump had committed a crime but also “did not exonerate him”.

Supporters and opponents of Mr Trump are preparing to scour the document for any details that would help them get the upper hand in the battle to frame its contents.

Mr Barr has said the report is divided into two sections – one on conspiracy and a second one on obstruction. Legal experts said much of their focus on Thursday would be on what Mr Mueller had written about the obstruction issue, given the disclosure by Mr Barr that the report “sets out the evidence on both sides of the question”.

“Barr said there’s a bunch of acts essentially that could be considered obstruction and Mueller has laid out [the] arguments both ways,” said Solomon Wisenberg, a former prosecutor who worked on the independent counsel investigation into Bill Clinton. “It’s going to be quite damaging to Trump and there’s going to be quite a lot of meat on the bones.”

US media reported that some White House staff were nervous that the report would expose critical statements about the president that they had made to Mr Mueller’s team. Mr Trump initially welcomed the release of the full report, but has recently suggested that the Democrats just wanted the document to attack him.

Constant suspicions

Mr Trump has faced constant suspicions over his Russia connections. Those were reinforced recently when Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, told Congress that he had held negotiations on Mr Trump’s behalf during the presidential race to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Mr Mueller did not make a traditional prosecutorial decision on obstruction and instead laid out the evidence on both sides, according to Mr Barr. This part of the report is expected to include at least one possibly obstructive act by Mr Trump that has not yet been reported.

The report could intensify criticisms of Mr Barr over his conclusion last month that Mr Trump had no criminal case to answer on obstruction, an assessment that others will be better able to judge once the document is released.

The Mueller report will include blocks of black ink that conceal some information, but it remains to be seen how extensive the redactions will be. Mr Barr has said that readers would get “more than the gist” of the report.

Mr Barr has said the redactions would cover sensitive intelligence, material covered by grand jury secrecy, information that could affect ongoing investigations and anything that affects the privacy or reputations of third parties, which he told Congress did not include public officials. Justice department policy is to avoid criticising individuals who are not being charged.

“My guess is there’s going to be enough meat on the bones for people to really have a pretty strong grip on what this investigation found, what people were telling them and, most importantly, what their legal assessment was,” said James Trusty, a former federal prosecutor and a partner at Ifrah Law.

The conspiracy section of the Mueller report will lay out reasoning behind the prosecutions that Mr Mueller brought during his investigation. They included indictments of Russians for hacking and propaganda, as well as charges against six Trump associates for lying, including about their contacts with Russians. It will also include his explanations for why he declined to bring other cases, though it is unclear how much detail there will be in this regard and whether it will be redacted. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019