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What to expect on the Mueller report’s release day

Collusion, obstruction, redactions, and more.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election will at long last be released this Thursday morning, according to the Justice Department — but with some redactions.

The main text of the report is said to be more than 300 pages long, and it will reportedly be provided to Congress between 11 am and noon Eastern, and released publicly shortly afterward.

Before the report is released, Attorney General Bill Barr is scheduled to give a press conference about the report at 9:30 am Eastern, which you can watch at this link. Barr’s decision to make this appearance before he releases the report itself has caused some controversy.

The attorney general announced nearly four weeks ago that Mueller had concluded his investigation, that he’d bring no further charges, and that he had no more indictments under seal. However, Mueller also did hand off several unresolved matters to other Justice Department offices for further investigation.

Mueller was appointed in May 2017, and during his 22-month investigation he filed charges against six former Trump advisers and 26 Russian nationals. But the special counsel did not bring any charge alleging criminal collusion between Trump associates and Russians to interfere with the election.

Another major topic of Mueller’s investigation was whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice while in office. The special counsel did not bring any charges on this topic, but he also refused to “exonerate” Trump — raising questions about just what his report will say about the president’s conduct, and how damning it will be.

So here’s what you need to know about the timing of the report’s release, what we know to expect about it, and the biggest questions to keep in mind when reading it.

Thursday morning, around the 11 am to 12 pm (Eastern) hour, according to the Justice Department. Barr’s press conference will be before that, at 9:30 am Eastern.

According to the regulation under which Mueller was appointed, his final report is broadly supposed to focus on explaining his “prosecution or declination decisions” — that is, why he decided to charge certain people but not others.

Beyond that, Barr has said that Mueller’s report is divided into two main parts. The first covers Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and the second covers potential obstruction of justice by President Trump.

On election interference, Mueller filed charges against two groups of Russians, related to the hacking and leaking of Democrats’ emails and to a social media propaganda operation. But “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Mueller wrote, in one of the few direct quotes from the report Barr already revealed. The report will likely describe the investigation into whether anyone on the Trump team conspired with Russia in more detail.

The obstruction of justice section is about whether Trump tried to interfere with the Russia investigation since taking office. Oddly, Mueller declined to issue a determination on whether Trump’s conduct here was criminal, writing that the report does not “conclude” Trump committed a crime but that “it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr said that in his view, Mueller’s evidence was “not sufficient to establish” that Trump obstructed justice. But Mueller team members have told associates their evidence on this front is “alarming and significant,” per the Washington Post. And some of them feel Barr’s letter to Congress didn’t properly describe “derogatory information” they’d unearthed, according to CNN.

It has also been reported that part of the Mueller investigation was a counterintelligence probe into whether Trump or his associates were compromised by Russia. This question is broader than simply whether there was a criminal conspiracy to interfere with the election, but could entail mere “links” to Russia or whether Americans were working against the United States’ interests. But it is unclear whether the Mueller report will reveal anything about his counterintelligence findings, or whether they will be handled separately (and secretly).

We also know there will be four categories of redactions in the report: 1) Grand jury material, 2) information related to ongoing investigations, 3) information that could compromise intelligence sources and methods, 4) material that could compromise the privacy of peripheral third parties. Barr has testified that each redaction will be identified by one of these categories.

Another possibility that was discussed was that President Trump could try to block certain information in the report from release by asserting executive privilege. But as of last week, Barr testified to Congress that there were no plans for this to happen, and that he did not intend to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review.

When the report does come out, there are several key questions

1) Was there “no collusion” — or “not enough evidence of collusion”? Did Mueller affirmatively conclude there was no evidence of a conspiracy between Trump associates and Russia to interfere with the election, or just that he just didn’t have enough evidence to prove one in court?

The lack of charges on this topic could mean there was nothing there. It could also reflect a murkier situation involving lack of irrefutable evidence, legal gray areas, or misconduct that doesn’t fit neatly into the category of “collusion.” The question of which of these better describes Mueller’s findings will be quite important in shaping our understanding of the Trump-Russia scandal as a whole.

2) Why didn’t Mueller “exonerate” Trump on obstruction of justice? We know a fair amount about the obstruction investigation already — that Mueller probed Trump’s interactions with then-FBI director James Comey, Trump’s decision to fire Comey, Trump’s pressures on other Justice Department officials, and Trump’s interactions with Russia probe witnesses and defendants.

But we don’t know the full scope of Mueller’s evidence on these topics. We don’t know why Mueller declined to make a prosecutorial recommendation on obstruction one way or the other. And we don’t know what’s caused recent behind-the-scenes tensions between some Mueller team members and Barr.

ABC News’s Jonathan Karl recently reported, “There is significant concern on the president’s team about what will be in this report” — and said that what former White House counsel Don McGahn told Mueller’s team about obstruction “worries them the most.”

3) How many investigations did Mueller hand off? During his 22-month investigation, Mueller’s team turned up information on a number of different topics that weren’t Russian interference with the presidential election. So the special counsel ended up referring “a number” of cases to other Justice Department offices for potential investigation and prosecution.

We know about some of these referrals — cases related to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig. But we don’t know how many others there are that we don’t yet know about. The report may shed more light on this, since Barr has said that redactions that relate to ongoing investigations will be identified as such.

4) Will the report be too redacted to make sense of? Finally, hanging over all the above is the question of just how much of Mueller’s report we’ll even get to see. We don’t yet know whether the redactions will be applied in a reasonable and limited way — or whether they’ll be overused to hide an excessive amount of information, with pages and pages blacked out. Liberally applied black bars can be cover for a whole lot of mischief.

One encouraging sign, though, is that Mueller’s team reportedly prepared summaries of their findings that they expected could be made public quickly. If these are made public as part of the full report, they could remove any further ambiguity about what Mueller and his team believe they’ve found (even if the actual body of the report remains full of redactions).

Overall, the sheer number of redactions will likely be key in determining whether the report’s release definitively provides closure to the Trump-Russia investigation — or whether it will only stoke further questions about what information is being concealed.

For cover of the Mueller report’s release, follow Andrew Prokop on Twitter and check out Vox’s guide to the Trump-Russia investigation.


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