Attorney General William Barr and Special Counsel Robert Mueller in a file photo from 1991
Attorney General William Barr and the White House try to protect Donald Trump before the Mueller Report on Trump-Russia links is given to Congress on Thursday.
Barr has maintained that the White House has not seen the report, but Justice Department officials have had numerous conversations with White House lawyers in recent days, according to “people with knowledge of the discussions”.
The sources said that the meetings have helped Trump’s legal team as it tries to counter the report.
Barr refused to answer questions from legislators last week about whether the Department had given the White House a preview.
In a possible further effort to assist Trump, Barr will hold a press conference at 9:30 am Washington time, before the report is handed to Congress between 11 am and noon.
The Attorney General’s office said this is to summarize the process and explain Barr’s rationale — but did not explain why this was necessary after Barr tried to establish the report’s conclusion in a four-page letter on March 24, a summary that was challenged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team through former and current Government officials.
Critics say the Attorney General will use the gathering to “spin” the report, of almost 400 pages and hundreds of pages of supplemental material, before any legislator has seen it.
Aided by the Justice-White House meetings, Trump’s camp will then have the 90-minute window to try and establish the public narrative over Mueller’s findings — or to denounce the Special Counsel and his team if those findings cannot be spun to Trump’s benefit.
Trump’s staff have devised a process for numerous lawyers and political aides to quickly read different parts of the report as part of the rebuttal tactics, according to “multiple people briefed on the plan”.
Trump said yesterday that he might hold his own press conference after the appearance of the Attorney General, whom he praised as “excellent”.
A “senior White House official” said Trump has praised Barr privately. Trump compared him favorably to his predecessor Jeff Sessions, whom Trump insulted and humiliated over Sessions’ recusal — because of contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016 — from oversight of the investigation.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, challenged Barr’s scheduling of the press conference.
The attorney general appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump. Rather than letting the facts of the report speak for themselves, the attorney general has taken unprecedented steps to spin Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation.
Evidence of Obstruction of Justice
The Washington Post, citing “people familiar with the matter”, says the report will feature “a granular look” at evidence that Trump obstructed justice.
The sources said Mueller decided not to recommend criminal proceedings because Trump’s intention to obstruct could not be established.
However, the “detailed blow-by-blow” of Trump’s conduct — including tweets, private threats, and other actions — could damage him politically.
White House officials are especially concerned about damaging testimony from former White House Counsel Donald McGahn, who spoke to Mueller’s team for 30 hours, and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Even before the revelation of the Justice Department-White House meetings, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said he is preparing a counter-report to Mueller’s findings
Barr — confirmed as Attorney General in February — initially tried to cover Trump from political and criminal consequences on March 24, two days after he was given the report by Mueller. In a four-page letter, he obscured the issue of Trump campaign “collusion” with Russian officials. He declared that there was no case, despite evidence of Trump’s obstruction of justice, to proceed with criminal charges.
The Attorney General has subsequently put out Trump’s line trying to undermine the report, with the misleading assertion that the FBI was “spying” on the campaign.
Barr missed an April 2 deadline set by the House Judiciary Committee for delivery of copies, and he has insisted on redactions, including under a sweeping clause covering “peripheral third parties”.