Washington is on edge as it awaits the highly anticipated release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s report on Thursday, the findings of which could ignite a political firestorm.
Attorney General William BarrBill BarrWoodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China Barr-Durham investigation again fails to produce a main event Virginia governor's race enters new phase as early voting begins MORE isn't delivering the report to Congress until 11 a.m. — after he and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinWashington still needs more transparency House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week MORE hold a 9:30 a.m. press conference to discuss the findings.
The move drew howls of protest from Democrats on Wednesday night, especially after The New York Times reported that White House lawyers and Department of Justice officials have already discussed details of Mueller's conclusions.
Democrats say Barr has acted as an agent of President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE in his role overseeing the release of the report, which will mark the culmination of one of the most-watched probes in recent political history.
Barr has consistently argued he had to wait to release the report in order to redact any grand jury material, classified information and details pertaining to ongoing investigations.
Democrats are hoping to use the report to bolster their sprawling probes into Trump’s administration, businesses and campaign.
But if the roughly 400-page document contains little evidence implicating Trump on obstruction of justice, the probes are certain to lose steam and thwart their plans to dig into every facet of the administration heading into 2020.
Republicans have already celebrated the principal findings of Mueller’s report — as provided by Barr — which found no evidence of collusion or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
But GOP lawmakers are cautiously eyeing whether Thursday’s release will reveal damaging information about the president, which could cause a lasting migraine for both the White House and Republicans in their 2020 election efforts.
Trump and his conservative allies have repeatedly sought to undercut the credibility of the probe, with the president this week calling it “the greatest scam in political history” and a complete “fabrication.”
Democrats are focusing their firepower on Barr, who sparked their fury after he decided, along with Rosenstein, that there was not sufficient evidence to charge the president with obstruction of justice, even though Mueller declined to make a call on the matter.
Democrats have since questioned whether Barr can be a fair arbiter of justice.
“Bill Barr is acting like a federally paid public defender for the president of the United States,” said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinGOP seeks to keep spotlight on Afghanistan as Dems advance Biden's .5T spending plan Raskin writing memoir about Jan. 6, son's suicide House Democrats demand details after Border Patrol agents accused of profiling Latinos in Michigan MORE (D-Md.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Fellow committee member Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineDemocrats seek to cool simmering tensions Hillicon Valley —Apple is not a monopoly, judge rules Judge rules Apple is not 'illegal monopolist' in high-profile Epic case MORE (D-R.I.) said, “The president has made it very clear he was looking for a Roy Cohn — he got him.”
Multiple Democrats have voiced concern that Barr will strategically and unnecessarily redact information in the Mueller report to protect Trump. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBiden to raise refugee cap to 125,000 in October Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan Angelina Jolie spotted in Capitol meeting with senators MORE (D-N.Y.) has threatened to subpoena the full report and its underlying evidence if he considers it to be heavily redacted.
Barr says he will follow the special counsel regulations, which limit him from revealing certain information, such as grand jury material. He also says he will black out classified information, details impacting ongoing investigations, and “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
Democrats say that approach is unacceptable. Earlier this month, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to authorize a subpoena to obtain the entire report and all of the underlying evidence collected by Mueller, with Democrats vowing to battle the Justice Department for all the information Democrats say is key to conducting their oversight probes.
A spokesman for the Judiciary panel told The Hill on Wednesday that Nadler could issue a subpoena “very quickly” after receiving the report, but that all depends on a review of the report once the committee receives it.
Federal prosecutors revealed in a court filing Wednesday that some lawmakers will be able to view a special copy of the Mueller report "without certain redactions."
Barr is expected to testify before the committee on May 2, giving Democrats another opportunity to press him for more information about the probe.
Congressional Democrats for months have pointed to a 19-page memo authored by Barr last year, while he was in private practice, arguing that Trump could not be charged with obstruction in the firing of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGiuliani told investigators it was OK to 'throw a fake' during campaign DOJ watchdog unable to determine if FBI fed Giuliani information ahead of 2016 election Biden sister has book deal, set to publish in April MORE because the president has the authority to choose the members of his administration.
That memo, coupled with Barr’s decision last month to say no obstruction occurred, ramped up accusations from Democrats that Barr is nothing more than a Trump loyalist who was auditioning for the role before he was nominated.
“He is not acting like the chief law enforcement officer of the United States who is interested in the fair and impartial administration of justice,” Raskin told The Hill. “And all of it comes out of that 19-page memo he wrote as a job application.”
Democrats have indicated in recent weeks that they have no plans to halt their investigations into Trump after the Mueller report is released.
“The Mueller report dealt with a targeted investigation into a narrow set of questions about the 2016 campaign,” Raskin said. “It doesn’t deal with any of the corruption or abuses of power that we have seen since Donald Trump took office.”
The House Intelligence and Financial Services committees recently amped up their probes into Trump’s finances — which they say Mueller did not thoroughly examine given the scope of his probe — by issuing subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and others.
"At the end of the day, the Mueller investigation was principally focused as a criminal investigation. That's not the purpose of the House Intelligence Committee's work," Rep. Denny HeckDennis (Denny) Lynn HeckExclusive: Guccifer 2.0 hacked memos expand on Pennsylvania House races Heck enjoys second political wind Incoming lawmaker feeling a bit overwhelmed MORE (D-Wash.), a member of the committee, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the House Oversight and Reform Committee ratcheted up its efforts by subpoenaing Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, in an effort to examine whether the president misrepresented his net worth.
And the House Ways and Means Committee is pushing for six years of Trump's personal and business tax returns in what is expected to become a prolonged court battle.
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans have been touting a pre-report message that emphasizes the principal findings Barr provided Congress last month: no collusion, no obstruction. They have also signaled plans to amplify those core conclusions regardless of what the report says on Thursday.
“The Mueller report will confirm there was no collusion, but take it to the bank: Democrats will double down. They’ll continue selling this hoax, even when none of the classified evidence they’ve been promising appears to exist,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsGraham found Trump election fraud arguments suitable for 'third grade': Woodward book Allies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan MORE (R-N.C.) tweeted Wednesday. “Treat their spin with the skepticism it deserves.”
Republicans are keenly aware that no matter what is in the public report, Democrats are going to use it to attack the president, said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.
“The White House knows there is nothing they can say or do that will satisfy the Democratic or media beast when it comes to the Mueller report. They already noticed this because the Democrats have moved from a Trump-Russia conspiracy to a Trump-Barr conspiracy,” O’Connell said.
Republicans have also signaled they intend to leverage any momentum from the Mueller report to look into how the investigation began in the first place, with a sharp focus on those who launched the counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign and whether the top members of the FBI and Justice Department harbored an anti-Trump bias while they led the Russia investigation.
Trump has called for as much over the weekend, demanding in a tweet: “INVESTIGATE THE INVESTIGATORS!”
And while the contents of the Mueller report are unknown on the eve of its release, one thing is clear: Democrats and Republicans will be sure to seize on the findings to bolster their calls for justice and transparency.