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5 things to look for in the Mueller report when it’s released on Thursday

What to look for in the Mueller report when it’s released on Thursday
What to look for in the Mueller report when it’s released on Thursday

Nearly 400 pages long, full of answers to questions the American people have had about scandal-plagued President Trump, the long-awaited report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be released Thursday morning.

Mueller’s extensive probe of whether the Republican president and his campaign colluded with the Russians, who wanted to throw the 2016 election in his favor, involved dozens of lawyers and FBI agents, who interviewed hundreds of witnesses and executed hundreds of search warrants.

After 23 months, the only things we know officially about the report come from Attorney General William Barr, a recent Trump appointee, who wrote a summary of its “principal conclusions” in a letter to Congress in late March.

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Barr said the investigation had not “established” that the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians, and he said that Mueller had not drawn “a conclusion — one way or the other” on the question of whether Trump had committed obstruction of justice.

Now comes the big reveal.

The full report, minus redactions, is about to be released.

Here are five major things to look for when the report is issued:

Does the report really clear up suspicions of collusion about Trump?

Mueller, according to Barr’s letter, “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated” with the Russian government in its 2016 election meddling.

But legal experts say “did not establish” doesn’t mean there’s no evidence at all of misdeeds. “Without seeing Mueller’s full report, we don’t know whether this is a firm conclusion about lack of coordination or a frank admission of insufficient evidence,” attorney and former federal prosecutor Ken White wrote in The Atlantic.

“We know from Barr’s four-page letter that Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a federal crime of conspiracy with Russia. But did he find conduct that, by any common-sense definition, evidences efforts to coordinate with Russia to influence the election?” said Elie Honig, a former federal and state prosecutor and CNN legal analyst.

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Decisions not to prosecute “do not necessarily resolve questions of morality, ethics or impeachability—in other words, the judgments of history, journalism and Congress are not determined by whether Mueller finds the president’s conduct indictably criminal,” Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes wrote on the Lawfare blog.

Are there new allegations on collusion and obstruction in the report? And will anything move the needle?

In discussing whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia, Barr noted in his letter there were “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.” It wasn’t clear if all those have been publicly reported.

NBC News reports that Mueller team members have told a senior law enforcement official that the report includes detailed accounts of Trump campaign contacts with Russia.

In discussing whether the president might have obstructed justice, Barr wrote that Mueller looked at “a number of actions by the President — most of which have been the subject of public reporting — that the Special Counsel investigated as potentially raising obstruction-of-justice concerns.”

That sentence implies that some questionable actions by the president have yet to be revealed.

Momentum in Congress for impeachment proceedings appears to have faded for the moment, despite the conviction of close Trump associates and extensive reporting raising questions about ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. It’s not clear what new factual revelation would have the power to move the needle.

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Why didn’t Mueller make a decision on obstruction of justice?

One of the biggest mysteries of the Mueller report is why, according to Barr, Mueller did not make his own charging conclusion on whether Trump committed obstruction of justice. Look for the report to shed some light on that question.

Legal experts have suggested that Mueller may have been simply laying out the facts for Congress.

“He appears to have created a substantial record of the president’s troubling interactions with law enforcement for adjudication in noncriminal proceedings — which is to say in congressional hearings that are surely the next step,” the experts at Lawfare wrote last month.

The decision by Mueller not to make a decision on obstruction left Barr to step into the breach and announce in his letter that he would not charge Trump with the crime.

Did Barr twist the meaning of the report in his letter to Congress?

Since the release on March 24 of Barr’s letter, which he said was intended to summarize the “principal conclusions” of the Mueller report, critics have wondered whether Barr “spun” the report to give Trump a public relations victory.

Trump picked up on the conclusions immediately, claiming “complete and total exoneration” by Mueller (though he has since gone back to being critical of the investigation as the report’s release nears).

Members of Mueller’s team were reportedly frustrated with the limited information that Barr had put into his letter.

The Washington Post reported that members complained to close associates that the evidence gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant. The New York Times reported that members told associates Barr had inadequately portrayed their findings.

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Barr later issued another letter, saying his earlier letter wasn’t meant as an “exhaustive recounting” of the investigation but was just as a summary of its “bottom line.”

Attorney General William Barr testified recently in Congress.
Attorney General William Barr testified recently in Congress.Erin Schaff/New York Times

How much of the report will be redacted?

The report is expected to be released in redacted form, with sections blacked out for four different reasons. Redactions will be made for secret grand jury information, classified information, information on ongoing cases, and “peripheral third parties,” whom Barr described in a congressional hearing as “people in private life.”

The Associated Press reported that, for example, Trump’s sons, Eric and Donald Jr., who do not work at the White House, could be more likely to have their information redacted, while his daughter Ivanka, who is a presidential aide, would not have her information redacted.

The categories of redacted material, which will be shown by color-coding in the document, are not crazy, Mary McCord, who led the Justice Department’s national security division from 2016 to 2017, told the Times. “But it remains to be seen how broadly or narrowly Barr applies them,” she said.

“If nine-tenths of the report is blacked out, I think we confidently can then say, ‘Yes, that is too broad,’ ” McCord said.

President Trump is expected to be a major figure in the report.
President Trump is expected to be a major figure in the report.Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images