(Written by Nicholas Fandos, Katie Benner, Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni)
Attorney General William Barr and his team on Saturday pored over the highly anticipated report by special counsel Robert Mueller, a senior Justice Department official said, preparing to deliver the investigation’s “principal conclusions” to jittery lawmakers and President Donald Trump as soon as Sunday.
Barr and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller and oversaw much of his work, were cloistered inside the Justice Department debating how to present the findings. Mueller was not participating in the process, the official said.
With little concrete information about the investigation circulating outside that tight circle, Washington was rife with speculation bouncing among reporters, lawmakers scattered across the country for their spring recess and lawyers for people involved in the case.
Trump himself remained uncharacteristically silent. After months attacking Mueller’s inquiry as a partisan “witch hunt,” he had yet to comment on its conclusion by Saturday afternoon. Spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump was surrounded by members of his family and a larger coterie of aides than usual. He spent much of Saturday on the golf course and had lunch with Kid Rock, according to people familiar with his plans.
Mueller delivered his report to Barr on Friday, signalling the end to a 22-month investigation into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and any attempts by Trump’s associates to aid them. Mueller also examined whether Trump obstructed justice to try to protect himself or his allies from investigators.
As part of the winding down of his investigation, Mueller’s office was handing off one of its remaining cases, a spokesman said Saturday. Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in the District of Columbia will handle the sentencing of Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign deputy who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate with the inquiry.
Regulations governing the special counsel give Barr latitude to decide what, if anything, to share publicly. In a letter to Congress notifying lawmakers that he had the report, Barr said he planned to hand over to them, and by extension the public, a summary of Mueller’s “principal conclusions” as soon as this weekend. He wrote that he “remained committed to as much transparency as possible.”
Only a few people in the Justice Department had seen the report and a copy had not been given to the White House, said the senior law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.
The Justice Department appears to be moving quickly, at least in part because it has known for some time that Mueller was in the home stretch.
When Barr was briefed on the investigation this month, he was told that there would be no more subpoenas or indictments, and that Mueller’s team was ready to wrap up in mid-March, according to people familiar with the investigation who were not authorized to discuss it. The special counsel’s office later notified Barr that it needed a few additional days to take care of administrative issues, which pushed the delivery to Friday.
Without certainty about what Barr would disclose or when, House Democrats convened a 30-minute conference call Saturday afternoon to line up talking points. Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California have begun insisting that only the release of Mueller’s full report and underlying findings will be sufficient so that Democrat-led House committees can conduct their own scrutiny of Trump.
The top Democrats on nearly a dozen House and Senate committees sent letters Friday to the FBI, the Justice Department, the White House and other federal agencies demanding that all documents, communication and evidence amassed by Mueller and his team be preserved because Congress might request access to it.
“Congress requires the full report and the underlying documents so that the committees can proceed with their independent work, including oversight and legislating to address any issues the Mueller report may raise,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to fellow Democrats before the call.
During the call, she added that she would reject any offer from the Justice Department to brief the bipartisan Gang of Eight House and Senate leaders or some other configuration of lawmakers in a classified setting on findings that are not made public, according to a person present. Pelosi said she would insist any briefing be unclassified to allow lawmakers to discuss the full investigative findings publicly.
Republican leaders convened their own brief call Friday night, after the Justice Department notified Congress that it had received the report from Mueller’s office, but it was primarily limited to logistics, according to one person with knowledge of the call. Welcoming the news that the special counsel would seek no further indictments, members of the president’s party were cautiously optimistic.
The Republican National Committee circulated talking points to allies Friday that emphasized Trump’s cooperation with the inquiry and appeared to set the stage for the president and his party to claim political victory. They asserted that “speculation” about interference with the investigation had been proved “dead wrong.”
“It’s long past time Democrats drop their politically motivated calls for never-ending investigations,” said a copy of the talking points, obtained by The New York Times.
Allies surrounding the president at Mar-a-Lago found themselves in a similar place. Trump’s lawyers and aides urged him to stay quiet, people briefed on the discussions said. Wait and see what was in the report, and trust that Barr is not trying to harm you, they cautioned. They assured him that there would be ample time to claim vindication after they knew what was in the report, the people said.
Trump appeared to be in good spirits Friday night when he dined on the Mar-a-Lago patio with his wife and some of his children.
But he was circumspect about the end of an investigation that has been a backdrop of his presidency. He told people who greeted him that he was tired, but he still returned to the patio after giving brief remarks at a local Republican Party dinner in the club’s ballroom. He sat sipping coffee until fairly late in the evening.
One friend of Trump said that despite his outward good spirits, the president remained anxious about the contents of the report and was concerned that its release was taking longer than he expected.
In recent weeks, Trump has been canvassing friends and allies for their opinions of Barr, a long-serving Republican legal hand who was confirmed last month. Trump, people who have spoken with him said, does not know Barr well or what to expect from him.
“Do you know Barr?” the president has asked others of his attorney general.