Administration

White House braces for Mueller report

The White House is bracing for Robert Mueller's report, which the special counsel investigating President Trump's campaign and Russia could submit to the Department of Justice as early as next week.

The filing would potentially bring to a close one of the dominant threads of Trump's time in office, which he refers to as a "witch hunt."

The president and his allies for months have called for an end to the special counsel's investigation, and Trump, who often insists there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia, could benefit politically if the report vindicates him.

"Anything short of them saying the president colluded with Russia and is now being indicted is going to depress Democrats," a source close to the White House told The Hill.

But Mueller's report won't end Trump's legal headaches, and it could raise new questions about the investigation itself.

Lawmakers will pressure Trump to make the document public, and Democrats are likely to pursue any stray leads. As a result, the report is bound to lead to new headaches at the White House.

"I think any report in the short term is going to be a political problem for Republicans, but in the long term I think it's going to be a problem for Democrats," said the source close to the White House, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the Mueller investigation.

Multiple news outlets reported on Wednesday and Thursday that Justice Department officials are readying for the end of Mueller's investigation, underlining the sense that the long drama could be coming to some kind of close.

The special counsel would be expected to submit a confidential report on his findings to Attorney General William Barr, who was just confirmed a week ago by the Senate.

The special counsel's office and a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice declined to comment. 

Trump and his attorneys in the last year have issued multiple calls for the probe to end, and Trump reportedly sought to fire Mueller on at least two separate occasions.

If Mueller does file his report, Trump will face a new decision on whether it should be made public.

"That'll be totally up to the new attorney general," Trump said Wednesday when asked whether the Mueller report should be released while he's traveling to Vietnam next week.

"He's a tremendous man, a tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the Justice Department," Trump added. "So that'll be totally up to him." 

Justice Department regulations state that an appointed special counsel will provide the attorney general with a confidential report explaining decisions to prosecute or not prosecute specific incidents.

During his confirmation hearing, Barr called it "vitally important" for Mueller to be allowed to complete his investigation. But he rankled Democrats when he did not fully commit to releasing any final report in its entirety.

Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the attorney general "has some flexibility" in terms of the report, but that he would try "to get as much as I can of the information to Congress and the public."

It's unclear what formal response Trump or the White House could issue once Mueller submits his findings. The president and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have previously suggested they may give a "counter report" to address the special counsel's determinations.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Trump attorney Jay Sekulow.

"I think what he'll say is 'I told you all along there was nothing to any of this,'" the source close to the White House said.

The special counsel's investigation has consumed Washington, D.C., for nearly two years. Breathless coverage has focused on who had or hadn't spoken with Mueller's team, who could be in investigators' crosshairs and whether Trump would move to shutter the probe entirely. 

Mueller has thus far charged more than 30 people as part of the investigation, including more than two-dozen Russians and six former Trump associates: Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Richard Gates, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone. 

But none of the charges have alleged any conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow to interfere in the election, the question at the core of Mueller's investigation.

Should the special counsel submit his report without filing additional charges, it will not mean the end of Trump's legal predicaments.

Prosecutors in New York are reportedly looking into potentially illegal contributions to Trump's inaugural committee, and the New York attorney general is pursuing a lawsuit against the president's charity.

Democrats - many of whom have resisted coming down on the impeachment debate without a final account from Mueller - have pledged to pursue evidence raised in the special counsel's final report.

"The American people are entitled to know if there is evidence of a conspiracy between either the president or the president's campaign and a foreign adversary," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Sunday on CNN. 

Schiff has previously threatened to issue a subpoena for any parts of Mueller's report kept private, and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said Wednesday he will introduce legislation that would require the report be made public.

Some Republicans, such as Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), have said they'd like for the American people to see the report.

If and when that happens, the reactions are likely to be split along partisan lines.

Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, predicted that Trump's approval rating would suffer regardless of whether the president is directly implicated or whether his associates are the only ones named in any final report. Those problems could be compounded by any prolonged fight over the document's release, he said.

"My guess is if the report is damning it is probably going to renew calls for impeachment," he told The Hill. "I'm guessing at least a couple of the Democratic candidates (for president) are going to start, in order to create some separation, are going to start talking about impeachment."

Republicans, some of whom have echoed the president's concerns about Mueller's investigation dragging on, are likely to seek to move on quickly.

"The special counsel needs to bring his evidence forward if he has any, and let's get on with it," Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said on "Fox and Friends." 

"The American people deserve to have this thing wrapped up and over with."

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