Trump Ups His Attacks With Redacted Mueller Report Due Thursday

The US president isn't waiting. As Washington counts down the final hours until publication of the redacted special counsel report – now expected Thursday – Donald Trump stepped up his attacks Monday, 15 April 2019, in an effort to undermine potential disclosures on Russia, his 2016 campaign and the aftermath.

He unleashed a series of tweets focusing on the previously released summary of special counsel Robert Mueller's conclusions – including a crucial one on obstruction of justice that Trump again misrepresented – produced by Attorney General William Barr.

"Mueller, and the A.G. based on Mueller findings (and great intelligence), have already ruled No Collusion, No Obstruction," Trump tweeted. "These were crimes committed by Crooked Hillary, the DNC, Dirty Cops and others! INVESTIGATE THE INVESTIGATORS!"

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Press Secretary Sarah Sanders repeatedly tried to make the same case on TV talk shows on Sunday. But the political battle is far from finished over the special counsel's investigation of Russian efforts to help Trump in 2016 and whether there was cooperation with his campaign.

Democrats are calling for Mueller himself to testify before Congress and have expressed concern that Barr will order unnecessary censoring of the report to protect the president. The House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, is poised to try to compel Barr to turn over an unredacted copy as well as the report's underlying investigative files.

The Justice Department announced Monday that it expects to release the redacted version Thursday morning, sending the findings of the nearly two-year probe to Congress and making them available to the public.

Mueller officially concluded his investigation late last month and submitted the confidential report to Barr. Two days later, the attorney general sent Congress a four-page letter that detailed Mueller's "principal conclusions."

In his letter, Barr said the special counsel did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump associates during the campaign. However, contrary to Trump's false claim, Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. Instead, Mueller presented evidence on both sides of that question. Barr said he did not believe the evidence was sufficient to prove that Trump had obstructed justice, but he noted that Mueller's team did not exonerate the president.

Portions of the report being released by the Justice Department will be redacted to protect grand jury material, sensitive intelligence, matters that could affect ongoing investigations and damage to the privacy rights of third parties, the attorney general has said.

The scores of outstanding questions about the investigation have not stopped the president and his allies from declaring victory.

They have painted House Democrats' investigations as partisan overreach and have targeted news outlets and individual reporters they say have promoted the collusion story. The president himself seethed at a political rally that the whole thing was an attempt "to tear up the fabric of our great democracy."

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He has told confidants in recent days that he was certain the full report would back up his claims of vindication but was also convinced the media would manipulate the findings in an effort to damage him, according to two Republicans close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations. In the waiting game's final days, the White House continued to try to shape the narrative.

"There was no obstruction, which I don't how you can interpret that any other way than total exoneration," press secretary Sanders said on "Fox News Sunday."

While the president unleashed his personal grievances, his team seized on any exculpatory information in Barr's letter, hoping to define the conversation in advance, according to White House officials and outside advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private deliberations.

The victory lap was deliberately premature, they said.

But Trump's inner circle knows there will likely be further releases of embarrassing or politically damaging information. Barr's letter, for instance, hinted that there would be at least one unknown action by the president that Mueller examined as a possible act of obstruction. A number of White House aides have privately said they are eager for all Russia stories, good or bad, to fade from the headlines. And there is fear among some presidential confidants that the rush to spike the football in celebration could backfire if bombshell new information emerges.

Trump and Allies Continue Russia Investigation Attack

Trump and his allies also continue to attack the origins of the Russia investigation, portraying it as an effort by Democrats and career officials in the Justice Department to bring him down.

"The Mueller Report, which was written by 18 Angry Democrats who also happen to be Trump Haters (and Clinton Supporters), should have focused on the people who SPIED on my 2016 Campaign, and others who fabricated the whole Russia Hoax. That is, never forget, the crime." Trump tweeted Monday.

His long-asserted accusation — though not supported by evidence — that his campaign was spied upon was given new life last week when Barr, testifying before Congress, said he thinks "spying did occur" in 2016.

Barr may have been referring to a surveillance warrant the FBI obtained in the fall of 2016 to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing. The warrant was obtained after Page had left the campaign and was renewed several times. Critics of the Russia investigation have seized on the fact that the warrant application cited Democratic-funded opposition research, done by a former British spy, into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

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Barr later softened his tone to "I am not saying improper surveillance occurred."

The attorney general's comments have frustrated Democrats, already anxious for the release of the full, uncensored report and concerned that Barr may withhold pertinent information. The report could provide new information that could prompt further investigations or even consideration of impeachment proceedings, a tricky political calculation since Mueller did not conclude there was collusion or obstruction.

The Russia probe began on 31 July 2016, when the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Russia's efforts to influence the presidential campaign and whether anyone on the Trump campaign was involved. That probe was prompted by former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos' contacts with Russian intermediaries, including a Maltese professor who told the young aide that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of emails.

What You Won't See in the Mueller Report

The special counsel's Trump-Russia report will be out on Thursday for all to see. But not all of it.

The Democrats' demands for a full, unredacted version of Robert Mueller's report are likely to prompt a political and legal battle that could last for months, if not much longer.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, has said he is prepared to issue subpoenas "very quickly" for the full report on Russia and Donald Trump's presidential campaign if it is released with blacked-out sections. And that would set the legal fight in motion.

Attorney General William Barr has said he is redacting four types of information from the report, which the Justice Department says will be released Thursday.

Congressional Democrats cite precedent from previous investigations in saying they want to see it all. But some Republicans defending Barr are also citing precedent, saying it is appropriate to keep at least some of the information from Congress and the public.

A look at what types of material Barr is redacting, and why Democrats say it should be released:

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Grand Jury Information

Barr has staked out his position on releasing secret grand jury information, saying last week that he would not go to court to request its release. He said Democrats are "free to go to court" themselves, and Nadler has said he is ready to do so.

Grand jury information, including witness interviews, is normally off limits but can be obtained in court. Some records were eventually released in the Whitewater investigation into former President Bill Clinton and an investigation into President Richard Nixon before he resigned.

Both of those cases were under somewhat different circumstances, including that the House Judiciary Committee had initiated impeachment proceedings. Federal court rules state that a court may order disclosure "preliminary to or in connection with a judicial proceeding."

But Democrats have said they are not interested in impeachment, for now, and are likely to argue in court that they don't need to be in an official impeachment proceeding to receive the materials.

Classified Information

Congress frequently receives classified documents and briefings, and Democrats say there is no reason the Mueller report should be any different.

Many Republicans agree, including the top Republican on the intelligence committee, California Rep. Devin Nunes, who wrote a rare joint letter in March with House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff asking for "all materials, regardless of form or classification." In the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press, Schiff and Nunes also asked for a private briefing from Mueller and his team.

Democrat Schiff has argued that some of that information should be released to the public, as well, citing Mueller indictments that have already revealed granular detail about the Russian effort to influence the 2016 election.

"All of that information at one point was classified, but the decision must have been made the public interest outweighs that. And I think a similar analysis should be undertaken here," Schiff said on CNN this month.

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Ongoing Investigations

Barr said he will redact information related to investigations connected to the Mueller probe that are still underway. Those include cases handed off or referred to federal prosecutors in Washington, New York and Virginia.

Democrats have noted that the Justice Department has released such information before, including some related to Mueller's own investigation while it was in progress. Republicans who were in the House majority last year, obtained documents related to the beginnings of the Russia investigation, arguing that officials were biased against then-candidate Trump.

Republicans argued at the time that it was necessary to obtain that information to maintain the integrity of the investigation.

Derogatory Information

The Justice Department regularly redacts information about people who were interviewed or scrutinized in investigations but not charged. Barr has said he will black out information from the report "that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties."

Asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., at a hearing last week if that meant he would redact information to protect the interests of Trump, Barr said it did not. "No, I'm talking about people in private life, not public officeholders," Barr said.

That means that in addition to Trump, members of his family who work at the White House, such as his daughter Ivanka, could potentially be named if they were somehow entangled in Mueller's investigation. But any information regarding his sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., who run his businesses, could be more likely to be redacted.

The Justice Department did release information about the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email practices more than two years ago, even though Clinton wasn't charged. But that was after then-FBI Director James Comey made the much-questioned decision to publicly discuss that investigation. Barr signaled in his confirmation hearing in January that he would do things differently.

"If you're not going to indict someone, then you don't stand up there and unload negative information about the person," Barr said. "That's not the way the Department of Justice does business"

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(Published in an arrangement with AP)

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