WASHINGTON — Not all of Robert S. Mueller III's findings will be news to President Trump when they are released Thursday.
Justice Department officials have had numerous conversations with White House lawyers about the conclusions made by Mr. Mueller, the special counsel, in recent days, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. The talks have aided the president's legal team as it prepares a rebuttal to the report and strategizes for the coming public war over its findings.
A sense of paranoia was taking hold among some of Mr. Trump's aides, some of whom fear his backlash more than the findings themselves, the people said. The report might make clear which of Mr. Trump's current and former advisers spoke to the special counsel, how much they said and how much damage they did to the president — providing a kind of road map for retaliation.
The discussions between Justice Department officials and White House lawyers have also added to questions about the propriety of the decisions by Attorney General William P. Barr since he receivedMr. Mueller's findings late last month.
Mr. Barr and his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, determined that Mr. Trump did not illegally obstruct justice and said the special counsel found no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia's 2016 election interference. Mr. Barr told lawmakers that officials were "spying" on the Trump campaign, raised ominous historical parallels with the illegal surveillance of Vietnam War protesters and pointedly declined to rebut charges that Mr. Mueller's investigators were engaged in a "witch hunt."
Spokespeople for the White House and the Justice Department declined to comment. Mr. Barr, who plans to hold a news conference at 9:30 a.m. Thursday to discuss the special counsel's report, refused to answer questions from lawmakers last week about whether the department had given the White House a preview of Mr. Mueller's findings.
The Justice Department plans to turn the report over to Congress between 11 a.m. and noon on CDs, and it will be posted on the special counsel's website sometime after, according to a senior department official. Though the delivery method might sound outdated, it is not unusual for lawmakers to receive large tranches of government information on the discs.
Much is at stake for Mr. Barr in Thursday's expected release, especially if the report presents a far more damning portrayal of the president's behavior — and of his campaign's dealings with Russians — than the attorney general indicated in the four-page letter he wrote in March. That letter generated angeramong some members of Mr. Mueller's team, who believed it failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and have told associates that the report was more troubling for Mr. Trump than Mr. Barr indicated.
His plans to black out sensitive information in the report have drawn complaints, particularly from Democrats who have demanded the document's full text.
Justice Department rules do not require Mr. Barr to make the special counsel's report public, and the attorney general's defenders say he will fulfill pledges of transparency he made during his confirmation hearings to make as much of the document public as possible.
A significant portion of the report will be readable, a government official said. Still, any redaction, no matter how minuscule, could omit information crucial to understanding what investigators uncovered.
Even a redacted report is likely to answer some of the outstanding questions about Russia's attempts to sabotage the election; contacts between Kremlin intermediaries and the Trump campaign; and the president's efforts to derail the investigation.
Mr. Mueller's report examines each episode that was part of the president's attempts to undermine the investigation, Mr. Barr wrote in his letter.
Investigators focused on whether the president used his position atop the executive branch to impede their inquiry. Mr. Mueller's team scrutinized Mr. Trump's efforts to end an investigation into his first national security adviser and to oust law enforcement officials — like the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey — who Mr. Trump believed were disloyal. Mr. Mueller also closely examined Mr. Trump's attempt in June 2017 to have the special counsel himself fired.
Mr. Barr also wrote that Mr. Mueller explains why he did not make a determination on an obstruction offense, laying out evidence "on both sides of the question." Though investigators did not exonerate him, "the evidence does not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference," the report said, according to Mr. Barr's letter.
The president's aides have devised a strategy for numerous lawyers and political aides to quickly read different parts of the document to develop a rebuttal strategy, according to multiple people briefed on the plan.
The recent conversations between the Justice Department and the White House were first reported by ABC News.
Democrats on Capitol Hill, armed with subpoena power and deeply mistrustful of Mr. Barr's motivations since he was first nominated, have pressed for more and believe they could soon have the upper hand.
They have demanded the full text of the report and access to the underlying evidence they say is necessary for continuing congressional inquiries into foreign influence and obstruction of justice.
The House Judiciary Committee has already authorized a subpoena for its chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, to try to force Mr. Barr to hand that material over to Congress.
"On the assumption that it's heavily redacted, we will most certainly issue the subpoenas in very short order," Mr. Nadler said Wednesday evening at a hastily called news conference in New York.
Promising more transparency, the government said it would let a select group of lawmakers see some of the material related to the case against Roger J. Stone Jr. that had been redacted from the initial public version of the report, according to a filing on Wednesday in the Stone case. Mr. Nadler cautioned, though, that his committee had not been made aware of any such accommodation.
Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and a member of the Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday accused Mr. Barr of trying to "insulate" Mr. Trump, comparing him to Roy Cohn, one of Mr. Trump's former personal lawyers known for his fierce efforts to protect his boss.
Mr. Nadler took particular umbrage that Mr. Barr would hold a news conference before Congress or the public sees the report.
"The attorney general appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump," Mr. Nadler said. He added, "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."
He pressed Mr. Barr to cancel his own news briefing scheduled for Thursday.
Democrats in recent weeks have accelerated investigations of the president, his campaign, businesses and administration, issuing a flurry of subpoenas and voluntary requests that could aid their work. They intend to incorporate whatever they glean from Thursday's report into those investigations, which they argue Congress has its own constitutional duty to conduct regardless of Mr. Barr's conclusion.
Doing so could also allow party leaders to cool any potential heat within the party to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president — a possibility Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has repeatedly said would be politically unwise, absent startling new evidence of wrongdoing.
Democrats concede that the real challenge will be to persuade Republicans and the broader public to keep focused on a case that the attorney general weeks ago essentially declared was closed.
A key witness in the obstruction investigation was the former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II, who spent more than 30 hours with Mr. Mueller's team. Mr. McGahn explained in detail how Mr. Trump tried to gain control over the investigation.
Mr. Trump's legal team never thoroughly debriefed Mr. McGahn's lawyer about what his client told investigators, leaving the president's lawyers in the dark about what Mr. McGahn said. In recent weeks, White House officials have grown increasingly concerned about what Mr. McGahn told the Mueller team and believe his statements could be used in the report to paint a damning portrait of the president, two people close to the White House said.
Republicans have seized on Mr. Barr's decision to clear the president of criminal obstruction of justice and plan to try to reinvigorate their own inquiries into decision making inside the Justice Department and the F.B.I. in 2016 that prompted law enforcement officials to open the Russia investigation.
Mr. Barr gave ammunition to those efforts last week, when he described law enforcement surveillance of the Trump campaign as "spying." The remark reinforced a narrative long pushed by Mr. Trump and his allies in Congress — that a "deep state" tried to prevent Mr. Trump from becoming president and has tried to undo his presidency.
Mr. Barr's comments sent shudders through law enforcement ranks and surprised many who saw him as a stabilizing force whose instincts would be to protect the Justice Department from political attacks — unlike former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Matthew G. Whitaker, who held the job in an acting capacity after the president forced out Mr. Sessions.
By Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman, Nicholas Fandos and Katie Benner in The New York Times, April 17, 2019.
April 18, 2019
Voices4America Post Script. In case you wondered how All the (so called) President's Men could write an extensive rebuttal of Mueller's work in advance of the release of even a redacted report, here is the corrupt answer. Barr has committed high crimes as Attorney General. This morning Barr will speak not as America's lawyer but as Trump's!
Even Barr’s press release this morning in advance of this so-called release was by order of Trump and it was Trump who announced this was happening.
In advance of release of any of Mueller’s report, Barr will again try to spin Trump out of harm’s way to reporters (who will not yet have even Barr’s redacted work)!