Steeled for redactions, public awaits Mueller report

WASHINGTON (CN) – Fulfilling a promise about the report he has been carefully redacting for weeks, Attorney General William Barr is set to give the public its first look Thursday at the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Mueller submitted the report to the Department of Justice nearly a month ago, but Attorney General Barr has been reticent to take the next step of releasing the report to Congress.

The report is said to be nearly 400 pages, but Barr did not include even one full sentence from it when he summarized what he described as Mueller’s “principal conclusions” in a 4-page letter letter to Congress on March 24.

The letter from Barr said Mueller “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russia government in its election interference activities.”

Barr also said that “‘difficult issues’ of law and fact” kept Mueller from making a determination as to whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice.

Making that determination himself with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Barr found the evidence insufficient to conclude that Trump obstructed justice.

Barr specified, in one of four partial quotations from Mueller’s report to make the letter, that the lack of conclusion on whether Trump committed a crime “does not exonerate him.”

As the president used Barr’s letter to take a victory lap — claiming vindication of his “no collusion” mantra — the special counsel’s office has remained silent.

Barr claims he and Mueller’s team have been working closely in the weeks since to redact and color-code four categories of information from the report: grand jury information subject to secrecy rules; material that could compromise sources and methods; information related to ongoing investigations spun off from Mueller’s probe; and material the Justice Department thinks could damage the reputations of witnesses and peripheral parties.

It is unclear if Congress will obtain the full report when the redacted version is made public. House Democrats have threatened to subpoena the Justice Department for it, along with the underlying evidence.

Since March 2017 when then-FBI Director James Comey revealed the existence of the agency’s investigation, the president has vehemently denied that his campaign colluded with Russia.

Trump has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” and Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel after the president fired Comey that May.

Over the ensuing two years, 19 lawyers on the special counsel’s team, assisted by dozens of FBI agents, compiled the report from 500 search warrants, 2,800 subpoenas and roughly 500 witness interviews.

To date the sprawling investigation has resulted in one conviction and 34 indictments – including against Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort and his national security adviser Michael Flynn.

None of the charges, however, have involved conspiracy. Of the six former Trump advisers ensnared in the probe, most were charged with lying to federal investigators or Congress.

Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates meanwhile faced charges related to their lobbying work on behalf of a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.

Gates struck a deal with the government and is still cooperating with investigators, while a Virginia jury convicted Manafort on bank and tax fraud charges last August.

Manafort was slated to face a second trial in Washington, D.C., but headed off those proceedings after agreeing to cooperate with the government.

Court documents show that Mueller took particular interest in a meeting Manafort and Gates had in Manhattan at the height of the 2016 campaign with suspected Russian intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson found that Manafort lied about the nature of his contacts with Kilimnik, and in the process violated his cooperation deal with the government.

During a sealed hearing on Feb. 8, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said that Manafort’s dishonesty goes “very much to the heart of what the Special Counsel’s Office is investigation.”

Depending on the level of redaction, the public version of Mueller’s report could shed more light on that meeting, along with its significance to Mueller’s team.

What Mueller has already illuminated is the nature and extent of Russia’s influence operation, designed to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances in 2016 while boosting Trump’s.

Mueller identified and charged 13 Russian individuals, three Russian companies and 12 Russian military officers for their role in plotting to sow political discord in the American political process and stealing Democratic Party emails that embarrassed Clinton.

Accused of helping to fund the Russian troll farms that spread disinformation online, Concord Management and Consulting is the only Russian party that responded to the charges and will face a jury trial.