The Justice Department announced on Wednesday night it would hold a press conference Thursday morning to preview special counsel Robert Mueller’s report before releasing the redacted version to Congress later in the day. President Donald Trump would also have press availability to discuss the report publicly before it goes to Congress around noon.
Press reports Wednesday evening indicated the Justice Department had briefed the White House repeatedly about the forthcoming report, and that the briefings had helped the president and his lawyers craft a “rebuttal” of the report.
The report is expected to contain damning details of the president’s wrongdoing, according to investigators with the special counsel’s office who have spoken to members of the media, but stop short of declaring he obstructed justice or conspired criminally with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election. The president and his surrogates, however, maintain the report fully exonerates him of allegations of collusion and obstruction of justice.
The slow walkout of the report Thursday morning gives the White House and Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee, time to discuss publicly their interpretations of the report before members of Congress are able to see it.
Congressional Democrats have called for Barr to cancel his press conference.
“This press conference, which apparently will not include Special Counsel Mueller, is unnecessary and inappropriate, and appears designed to shape public perceptions of the report before anyone can read it,” read a joint statement issued by five Democratic chairpersons of House committees.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have called on Mueller to testify before Congress, accusing Barr of “partisan handling of the Mueller report.”
The attorney general’s plan is “indefensible” and allows him to “spin the report… hours before he allows the public or Congress to see it [and has] resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality,” they said.
The White House has been rattled by the report. When Barr first issued his summary of Mueller’s findings in March, the president claimed he was “totally exonerated,” but more recent reporting indicates the special counsel’s report will be lightly redacted and offer damning details about potential obstruction of justice by the president and frequent contacts between the campaign and Russian agents.
Barr’s initial summary appeared favorable to the president, clearing him of obstruction and criminal conspiracy (the president says the report will prove “no collusion”) — but soon after the summary was released, investigators with the special counsel’s office aired their objections, telling reporters the full 400-page report was far more damaging to the president and did not “exonerate” him as he claimed it would.
No one from the special counsel’s office is expected to appear at Thursday’s planned press conferences.
This story has been updated to provide additional details about statements the special counsel’s office has provided to the media.