Where’s the Mueller Report? Washington Can Barely Handle the Anticipation

WASHINGTON — The president’s lawyer has no idea when the report is coming, either.

Seated alone amid tourists at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Friday, Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, scrolled through a tablet with one hand and held a cellphone in the other as he waited for the news that the long-awaited report by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, had changed from one set of hands to another.

“Keep in touch,” he said to the person on the other end of the phone. “Tell me what’s going on, O.K.?”

Like the rest of Washington, Mr. Giuliani is tired of waiting.

“They said it was going to be at noon or 12:30,” Mr. Giuliani told a reporter who approached him around half-past 1 o’clock. According to his sources — according to everyone’s sources — Mr. Mueller was late. All Mr. Giuliani could do was keep scrolling. “It’s not going to be Saturday, so they’ve got to do it today.”

He paused: “This is the fourth or fifth time a story like this has come out.”

And yet, as whispers around Washington that the report was imminent reached a fever pitch, he still believed that somehow, at some time on Friday, the report would be officially conveyed from the office of Mr. Mueller to the office of William P. Barr, the attorney general.

Starting early in the morning, that same anticipation took on other conspicuous forms. Reporters and photographers clustered around the office building just blocks south of the National Mall where the special counsel has its offices. At least a half-dozen news cameras positioned themselves outside the garage, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mr. Mueller driving his sensible Subaru in.

Camera operators filmed the entry and exit of every car.

Throughout the afternoon, a mix of passers-by — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employees and tourists at the Museum of the Bible — stopped to gawk at the cameras, curious what drew attention to a colorless, bureaucratic-looking office complex.

“I have the report in my purse!” one woman joked as she walked by.

At one point, as two of Mr. Mueller’s investigators left for lunch, they noticed the cluster of cameras and quickly turned to cross the street.

By 2 o’clock, an increasingly impatient group wanted a sign of something — anything — that could hint at Mueller-related activity a mile away at the Justice Department’s Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters.

Cameras flashed just after 2 p.m. when two lead prosecutors investigating Mr. Trump for obstruction of justice — James L. Quarles III and Andrew D. Goldstein — left together in a BMW sedan headed in that direction.

Inside the Justice Department, reporters filled the press room and ran out of seats. Rumors that were hatched about a noon report arrival were dispelled once Mr. Barr grabbed lunch in the department’s subterranean cafeteria.

Outside, a lone protester got in on the action, placing signs outside the Justice Department that said “Rule of Law,” “F.B.I. = Stasi” and “FISA Abuse” into the large planters on the sidewalk outside the building. He yelled “dossier for sale” at the few passers-by.

The man, who would only identify himself as “T. Pardy,” told a reporter that the special counsel investigation was “the fruit of the poison tree.” He then began to bang on a five-gallon bucket, screaming “FISA abuse.”

Not everyone took such a theatrical approach to awaiting the report.

Newt Gingrich, an occasional adviser to the president who as former House speaker vigorously defended the work of Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton, said that he was taking a laid-back approach.

“When it comes out, we’ll know,” Mr. Gingrich said an interview. “So I don’t have to wait for it.” He added that he believed the public should get the chance to see Mr. Mueller’s report, with “obvious exceptions.”

A low-key approach was similarly adopted at the White House.

“I have no idea about the Mueller report,” Mr. Trump told a cluster of journalists before boarding Marine One and departing for Mar-a-Lago, his winter retreat in Florida.

The Trump campaign struck a harsher tone in a text to supporters: “President Trump has put up with the WITCH HUNT for two years,” the campaign said, before asking them to take a poll about whether or not it was time for the investigation to end.

Back at the White House, a cluster of aides who remained in the West Wing area accessible to journalists turned off the television. They seemed more concerned with a flooding issue that had emerged from Thursday’s rains than the contents of the report, or when it might come.

Air Force One departed Joint Base Andrews in gusty winds that might have been a hint of what could come later in the day. The plane’s cabin rattled and shook as Mr. Trump headed for calmer skies in Palm Beach.

Once aboard the plane, the president and his aides were clearly aware of the anticipation about the Mueller report, but instead focused on the stories they would rather tell and the news they would rather make — such as the president’s decision to undo Treasury Department sanctions against North Korea based on his personal affection for Kim Jong-un.

Mr. Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his chief spokeswoman, also declared victory over the Islamic State on the way to Palm Beach. Both brandished maps that they said showed that the last tiny village occupied by the terrorist group in Syria had fallen.

When Mr. Trump arrived in Florida — to sunny blue skies and very little wind — Mr. Trump did what presidents often do: made a beeline for a small group of supporters gathered alongside the plane.

There was one indicator that Mr. Mueller’s report was at least somewhere near the back of the president’s mind: Emmet T. Flood, a lawyer for the president in the special counsel investigation, accompanied him to Palm Beach.

As the day drew on, observers on Twitter began placing their bets about the report’s whereabouts, creating fictional explanations about Mr. Mueller’s activities.

“Robert Mueller sweating in front of his laptop, staring at a Word doc containing only the words ‘The Mueller Report’ and a blinking cursor,” the comedian Patrick Monahan wrote on Twitter, trying his hand at fan fiction.

At that point, not even Peter Carr, Mr. Mueller’s famously tight-lipped spokesman, could seem to resist the fun people were having: “Ha,” Mr. Carr wrote in response to an NBC reporter who sent along Mr. Monahan’s tweet.

Meanwhile, Mr. Giuliani was waiting at the president’s hotel, at the ready in case his services were needed. Palm Beach, he said, was still on his mind.

“I still might go,” he said. “I want to play golf.”