Capitol Hill flew into a frenzy late Wednesday evening following two bombshell revelations about the highly anticipated final report in the Russia investigation.
First, the Justice Department announced that Attorney General William Barr will hold a press conference around 9:30 a.m. ET on Thursday to brief the public on an “overview” of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings.
Barr will also give insights into what prompted him to draw his “principal conclusions” about Mueller’s findings, and he will take questions from reporters about the contents of the report and the process of redacting and releasing it.
The press conference, which will not include Mueller or any members of his team, will take place over an hour before a copy of the report is delivered to Congress.
Shortly after news of the press conference broke, ABC News and The New York Times reported that Justice Department officials have had numerous discussions with White House lawyers over the last several days about the report.
Barr ‘appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump,’ Democrats say
Sources told ABC News the discussions involved a “broad” and “non-specific” briefing on the report that focused primarily on the mechanics of the document. The talks have reportedly helped President Donald Trump’s legal team prepare its rebuttal to the report and its public relations strategy once a redacted version is released Thursday.
The pair of revelations sparked an immediate and sustained backlash from Democratic lawmakers and congressional aides on the Hill.
“The attorney general appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said in a hastily arranged press conference Wednesday evening.
“Rather than letting the facts of the report speak for themselves, the attorney general has taken unprecedented steps to spin Mueller’s nearly 2-year investigation” in Trump’s favor, he added.
Nadler then went through a list of what he characterized as steps Barr has so far taken to shield the president and the White House:
- Barr’s decision to summarize the report and release “cherry picked findings” in a March 24 letter to Congress.
- His decision to withhold summaries Mueller’s team wrote about their findings that were intended for public consumption.
- His reported decision to brief the White House on the report before releasing it to Congress.
- His decision to hold a press conference to “put his own spin” on Mueller’s investigation before lawmakers and the public could obtain the report.
Nadler added that his “central concern” is that Barr “is not allowing the facts of the Mueller report to speak for themselves, but is trying to bake in the narrative of the report for the benefit of the White House.”
In his March 24 letter to Congress, Barr told lawmakers Mueller did not find enough evidence to bring a conspiracy charge against Trump or anyone associated with the campaign for coordinating with the Russian government during the 2016 election.
Barr added that Mueller declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” in the obstruction case and instead laid out all the evidence prosecutors had collected on both sides of the issue.
But Barr reviewed the evidence and, in consultation with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, concluded there was not sufficient evidence to charge the president with an obstruction crime.
The Justice Department has not yet commented on Democrats’ claims.
‘It’s just what Trump wanted. He hit the jackpot with Barr’
Trump and his allies seized on Barr’s summary and said it represented “a complete and total exoneration” of the president and proved Mueller and his team were on a two-year “witch hunt” against Trump.
But Democratic congressional aides pointed out the apparent discrepancy between the public narrative pushed by the White House, and the steps Barr has taken since Mueller’s team submitted its report.
“The president and his lawyers have been beating the drum and saying, you know, there was no collusion, no obstruction, that this report represents a complete and total exoneration,” one House Judiciary aide told INSIDER. “So why are they so concerned about what’s in the report? Why are they working so hard to craft this narrative before we even see the thing?”
Another committee aide said Democratic lawmakers were furious that Barr had decided to hold a press conference before releasing the report to Congress.
“They’re apoplectic,” this person said. “This whole thing is a s—show and a sham. But it’s just what Trump wanted. He hit the jackpot with Barr.”
Rep. Maxine Waters, the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, echoed that, telling MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, “I never expected Barr to do anything that would be respectful to the members of Congress, that would include us in any real way.”
“He auditioned for this job,” she added. “He is basically a lackey and a sycophant for the President of the United States of America.”
White House said to be bracing for Mueller’s obstruction findings
Late Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that Mueller’s report will be lightly redacted and will offer a detailed and granular look into the obstruction thread of the special counsel’s investigation.
Trump’s team has long been more concerned about Mueller’s findings in his obstruction-of-justice inquiry than his findings in the collusion thread of the Russia probe.
In particular, according to ABC News, they are concerned about Mueller’s report revealing previously unreported evidence of obstruction, as well as what information Mueller may have learned from witness interviews with individuals like former White House counsel Donald McGahn.
The news comes after The Times and The Post reported that Mueller’s team is apparently dissatisfied with the way Barr characterized their findings, and that they believe the evidence they gathered in the obstruction case is “alarming” and “significant.”
One former White House official who was involved in the Mueller probe told INSIDER they wouldn’t be surprised if Mueller’s obstruction findings had far-reaching ramifications for Trump.
“Can you imagine how much worst Mueller’s report would have been if the president’s lawyers had agreed to let him sit down and interview with prosecutors?” this person added. “Not letting him testify was the smartest move they’ve made throughout this whole investigation.”
Meanwhile, both Nadler and Waters said Wednesday that they hoped Mueller would testify before Congress about his findings in the Russia probe.
Nadler added that lawmakers and their staff will carefully read over the redacted report over the next few days. “But on the assumption that it’s heavily redacted,” he said, “we will certainly issue subpoenas in very short order” to obtain an un-redacted copy, as well as the underlying evidence for the report.