The Mueller report into Russian election meddling is scheduled to be released in all its redacted glory Thursday morning. It will be a lot of new information to quickly take in and assess for everyone involved. Everyone, that is, except for the Trump legal team, which, the New York Times reports, has already had multiple conversations with officials at the Department of Justice about the Mueller report’s conclusions. Wait, what? That’s right, the principle subject of the investigation, the president and his team, has already been briefed on the probe’s findings by the very department overseeing the inquiry, the Justice Department. Let’s not forget that congressional investigations into the president remain unresolved, making this very much an active legal matter.
Perhaps most important to Trump is the coming skirmish over public opinion and the shaping of public perception surrounding the findings. The tipping off of the president’s lawyers would certainly give Trump a leg up on crafting the narrative. The president now has the ability to get out ahead of what’s coming, much of which will likely be deeply unflattering to Trump irrespective of the conduct in question’s literal legality. If all of that seems a bit off to you, you’re obviously not the attorney general of the United States, or the president for that matter.
The contacts between the Justice Department and the White House have raised concerns about whether newly installed Attorney General Bill Barr is acting based on his allegiance to the president or his legal assessment of the information in Robert Mueller’s report. The fact that, according to the Times’ reporting, these consultations with the White House did not appear to include simply handing over a copy of the report for the Trump legal team to prep shows the underlying belief that giving unique, early access to the person being investigated—even the president—would be improper. Multiple people who were briefed on the plan told the Times that while “[t]he president’s aides have devised a strategy where numerous lawyers and political aides will quickly read different parts of the document to develop a rebuttal strategy” the DOJ discussions “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.”
The comments to the Times indicate that the White House hasn’t already seen the entirety of the report, but it will be interesting to see the speed and level of specificity of the Trump legal team’s response to the report’s release. An immediate turnaround of highly detailed, footnoted rebuttals of the most damning accusations, for instance, would strongly hint that individuals within the Justice Department tipped the White House off, and substantially so. Further questions have been raised about why Barr is planning to hold a press conference Thursday morning before the actual release of the Mueller report that essentially no one else in the world has read. Given the attorney general’s Trump-friendly initial reading when releasing his summary of Mueller’s conclusions last month, which Trump picked up on and has hammered home day after day as “total exoneration,” the press conference looks like an opportunity for Barr to again steer the debate by lobbing yet another alley-oop to the president.