Barr wants to set the tone before releasing the report
Mr. Barr’s decision to speak publicly before sending the report to Capitol Hill may give him a chance to set the stage for what members of Congress and the public will find in the nearly 400 pages prepared by Mr. Mueller.
The attorney general will have a chance to explain his process for deciding what to redact from the report and to defend his handling of the matter. Justice Department officials had numerous conversations with White House lawyers about Mr. Mueller’s conclusions the days leading up to the report’s release, providing an opportunity for the president’s lawyers to prepare a response.
Democrats harshly criticized Mr. Barr for holding a news conference before releasing the report, saying he was trying to spin it to protect the president.
“It now appears the attorney general intends to once again put his own spin on the investigative work completed by the special counsel,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “And the fact that the attorney general is not releasing even the redacted report to Congress until after his press conference will again result in the report being presented through his own words rather than through the words of Special Counsel Mueller.”
Barr’s summary of Mueller’s conclusions will be tested
Mr. Barr’s account of Mr. Mueller’s conclusions has been at issue since he sent a four-page letter to Congress last month.
In his letter, Mr. Barr quoted Mr. Mueller’s report saying that the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government” and that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
By citing only those two findings, Mr. Barr fueled Mr. Trump’s overstated public claims that Mr. Mueller’s report was a “complete and total exoneration,” though that was not the case on obstruction, even by Mr. Barr’s rendering.
Lawmakers and critics of Mr. Trump have questioned whether Mr. Barr’s account fully reflected the results of two years of investigation. Members of Mr. Mueller’s team have privately told associates that they were angry at his reduction of their work, which they said did not adequately convey findings that they deemed more troubling for the president than the attorney general publicly acknowledged.
Mr. Barr appeared sensitive to the criticism, later saying through a spokeswoman that his letter was not meant to be a comprehensive summary of the entire report, but only a transmission of the bottom-line conclusions.
Lawmakers will study Mueller’s discussion of obstruction
The special counsel’s report was expected to describe a series of actions that Mr. Trump or his team took that could be interpreted as impeding the Russia investigation, even though Mr. Mueller did not come to a definitive conclusion about whether they add up to a crime of obstruction.
Many of the actions were taken publicly or have been reported before, including the president’s decision to fire James B. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, who was leading the investigation into Russia’s interference and possible links to the Trump campaign. But Mr. Barr’s letter suggested that the report would cite other actions not previously disclosed.
Mr. Trump’s defenders have said a president cannot be accused of a crime for exercising the powers granted to him under the Constitution, while his critics have argued that otherwise legal actions can still be construed as obstruction if they are motivated by corrupt intent. While Mr. Mueller evidently opted not to make a decision, Mr. Barr did, telling Congress that he and Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, agreed that Mr. Trump committed no obstruction offense.
Redactions already have provoked a fight between Barr and Democrats
Long before anyone outside of the Justice Department saw the report, Mr. Barr and congressional Democrats were skirmishing over how much should be made public.
In providing the report to Congress and the public, Mr. Barr said he would black out information that would disclose secret grand jury proceedings, compromise open investigations, reveal intelligence sources and methods or intrude on the privacy or damage the reputations of “peripheral third parties.”
But Democrats who control the House have insisted that they be given access to the full report as well as any underlying evidence, arguing that they cannot trust Mr. Barr, a Trump appointee, to independently decide what gets released and what does not. The House Judiciary Committee has already authorized a subpoena for the unredacted report and may issue it if Democratic leaders are unsatisfied.
And the top leaders called for Mr. Mueller himself to testify, saying that the “only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling” of his investigation was for the special counsel to explain his findings.
“Attorney General Barr’s regrettably partisan handling of the Mueller report, including his slanted March 24th summary letter, his irresponsible testimony before Congress last week, and his indefensible plan to spin the report in a press conference later this morning — hours before he allows the public or Congress to see it — have resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said in a statement released early Thursday.
Report may illuminate Russia’s campaign to sway the election
Mr. Mueller has already established — through indictments of Russian individuals and organizations he linked to the Kremlin — that Russia sought to intervene in the 2016 election on Mr. Trump’s behalf.
But even if Mr. Mueller established no illegal conspiracy by the Trump campaign, the report might offer additional information on contacts that might not rise to the level of a crime in his view. Previous court filings and public reports have already documented that Mr. Trump and at least 17 campaign officials and advisers had more than 100 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, before his inauguration.
Mr. Mueller’s report will be examined to see if he offers any further insight into what was going on behind the scenes or any additional details on the proposed Trump Tower that Mr. Trump and his associates were secretly negotiating to build in Moscow through much of the 2016 election year.
After many months, perhaps the public will get a look at Trump’s own account
Mr. Trump has adamantly reduced his explanation of what went on in 2016 to a two-word mantra repeated at every turn: “no collusion.” With the release of Mr. Barr’s summary of Mr. Mueller’s report, he has amended it to say, “No collusion, no obstruction.”
But Mr. Trump’s official responses to Mr. Mueller’s more specific questions have remained secret since he responded in writing in November. With his lawyers worried that he would make a false statement and expose himself to criminal charges, the president refused to be interviewed in person, and Mr. Mueller did not try to force the issue with a subpoena.
By drafting the answers in writing in consultation with his legal team, Mr. Trump may have sidestepped what his lawyers feared would be a “perjury trap.” If Mr. Mueller included them in his report in whole or in part, however, they could offer the broadest explanation by Mr. Trump of what he knew and when he knew it during the campaign and after he took office.