While most of official Washington is on edge ahead of the expected release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report, Trump White House aides are shrugging off the fevered anticipation with a simple message: been there, done that.
Several of President Donald Trump’s aides conceded that the nearly 400-page report, which Attorney General Bill Barr says he’s aiming to release this coming week, will likely include new details about Trump’s behavior that are at a minimum embarrassing.
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But they believe they have a powerful shield against renewed Democratic outrage and media scrutiny in the form of the principal conclusions Barr highlighted in a four-page letter three weeks ago—namely that Trump’s 2016 campaign did not collude with the Russian government, nor is there sufficient evidence to prove that Trump obstructed justice.
“This is a report where everybody already knows the outcome,” said David Bossie, Trump’s 2016 deputy campaign manager. Trump, he added, “wants it out. He just wants it out and over with.”
“In 400 pages there’s bound to be something the media will spin as embarrassing for the president and then that will be the story,” said a White House official, “but will it be collusion? Will it be obstruction? Will it be conspiracy? Will it be criminality? No, no, no and no.”
Even as more than a dozen Trump aides and associates interviewed by POLITICO professed confidence that the report would inflict little new damage on a president they say has already been exonerated by Barr, some Trump allies say the White House is in for a rude awakening.
The confetti and streamers that followed Barr’s letter last month were “completely unfounded,” said a former White House official, who called his former colleagues “blissfully unaware of what’s to come.”
Barr’s March 24 letter said that Mueller found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and that the evidence is “not sufficient to establish” that Trump obstructed the Justice Department’s Russia probe. Yet legal experts and Democratic investigators are watching for potentially damning new disclosures about everything from Trump’s efforts to stymie Mueller’s work to possible signs of Kremlin influence over the president which, even if not criminal, could raise serious national security alarms.
Democrats say that explains why a counteroffensive from the White House and Barr is already underway, pushing back not only into additional House Democratic investigations into the president’s actions but also arguing for probes into the president’s opponents, including those who helped launch Mueller’s investigation.
“Why should Radical Left Democrats in Congress have a right to retry and examine the $35,000,000 (two years in the making) No Collusion Mueller Report, when the crime committed was by Crooked Hillary, the DNC and Dirty Cops?” Trump tweeted before playing a round of golf at his Virginia golf club on Saturday. “Attorney General Barr will make the decision!”
Trump allies are already on message. “We’re going to move on and we’re going to get to the bottom of how this insidious last two years began,” said Bossie.
Barr set the stage for a potential investigation in Senate testimony Wednesday, telling lawmakers that FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign during the Obama administration may have been an abuse of power.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said, adding that he plans to look at whether that spying was “adequately predicated.”
Trump allies say they are confident the president and his aides will be unscathed in the report’s section that focuses on Russian interference in the campaign. They’re aware the embarrassing and potentially harmful information will come in the report’s other section on obstruction of justice, where Mueller declined to prosecute Trump but indicated the report “does not exonerate him.”
Even so, the president’s advisers — including his lawyers, a team at the Republican National Committee, and pro-Trump outside groups — are gearing up to pore over and respond to the report. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow has a team of a half dozen attorneys and staffers in place, each assigned to a particular section of the report in order to be able to push back quickly.
Along with Sekulow, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani — who has recently maintained a relatively low profile— will also play a lead public role in responding to the report, according to a person familiar with the plans.
Giuliani, who has spent more than a year undermining public confidence in the Mueller investigation, has made few major television appearances since late January, when he claimed that talks to build a Trump Tower in Moscow talks may have lasted all the way through November 2016, the month Trump was elected. The statement contradicted the president’s public claims that he had no business deals with Russia while campaigning — and infuriated the White House.
In a text message to POLITICO, Giuliani suggested that the arrival of a nearly 400 page report on the president by a team of veteran prosecutors would be no big deal, and that he would give it a potentially brisk read from beginning to end.
“Sure, why not start at page one — and if it’s what I think, I can do it pretty quick,” wrote the former New York mayor.
And reached on vacation in Palm Springs, Trump legal adviser Joe diGenova was even more casual about the report’s impending release. “I’ve given it very little thought,” he said.