Elayne Burke woke Thursday morning in her Dupont Circle apartment and did not turn on the television to watch the “Today” show. Instead she opened Pandora to a jazz station and meditated. She left for work a little later than usual so she would be on the Red Line, underground and out of cell reception, while the attorney general hosted his news conference at the Justice Department. She didn’t need the media’s squawking or William P. Barr’s spin. She just needed the Mueller report.
We all just needed the Mueller report. And on Thursday at about 11:01 a.m., after nearly two years of waiting, we finally got it. It came not on stone tablets, or in sheaves of protestation nailed to a church. It came in the form we deserve: a flurry of tweets linking to a PDF file containing two volumes of 448 pages and 2,375 footnotes that were partially redacted and not immediately searchable by keyword.
When she arrived at work, Burke, an attorney, went straight for the conclusion. Then she started reading from the top, line by line.
“My head hurts,” she said after four hours of reading, “and I’m sad that the office of the presidency has been denigrated to such an extent that I’m not sure if the rule of law will survive.”
“Stunning,” Nicolle Wallace said on MSNBC. “A lot of smoke here.”
“Nothing,” Rudolph W. Giuliani said on Fox News. “Nada. No evidence of collusion.”
Stare hard enough, or skim quickly enough, and you could see either damnation or deliverance in the report. The takeaway for President Trump and his supporters was spelled out in black and white: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” But then there was the part about how the campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,” and how Trump “engaged in efforts to curtail the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
“I’m fucked,” the president said in 2017, according to the report, when Mueller was named special counsel.
“I’m having a good day,” he said on Thursday in the East Room, to cheers and applause. Trump was at the White House, honoring wounded warriors, and elsewhere it was mostly business as usual in America. The Dow was up 100 points. In Fremont, Neb., a construction worker died after falling from a lift at the site of a future chicken plant. Praise and emoji rolled in for the actress Kate Hudson, who announced on Instagram that she is just “a couple lbs” from her goal weight.
But in certain nooks of Washington, and in the gory colosseum of Twitter, people were ravenous for the Mueller report.
Camera crews assembled on Capitol Hill by 10 a.m. to catch a glimpse of the courier who would deliver the Mueller report to the House Judiciary Committee — apparently in the form of a CD-ROM, which felt like a throwback to the Ken Starr ’90s. A judiciary staffer walked the hallway offering sprinkled Dunkin’ Donuts to antsy journalists. While all the cameras were trained in one direction, a side door opened, closed, and a woman in black hustled down the hallway with hardly anyone noticing.
“That was her,” a judiciary staffer called out after she was gone.
The report had already posted online, but the camera crews were looking into their viewfinders to see if they’d caught a glimpse of the woman in black.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) had set his alarm for 7:13 a.m., walked his daughter’s dog, Hippo, put on a silver tie and black suspenders, and commuted from his Takoma Park home to his office on Capitol Hill, as people greeted him with, “Big day! Big day!” His staff printed the report and put it in a binder, and Raskin settled at his desk with a mini bottle of Poland Spring. Behind him was a copy of “Goodnight Trump,” a dark parody of the children’s book “Goodnight Moon.”
By 2:15 p.m. he had reached Page 141 of the second volume.
“I think it’s gripping,” he said. “It’s absolutely gripping.”
He took detailed notes with a blue felt-tip pen on a legal pad, at one point copying a quote from Trump: “Mueller has to go.”
“There are lots of diamonds in the rough,” Raskin said. “If you look at Page 76 of Volume 2, at the end of a very dense and opaque paragraph, there’s this rather stunning sentence . . . that is counter to the idea that the president had no idea to obstruct.”
On a live video feed from Vice News, staffers took turns reading aloud from the Mueller report, pressing a button for Muzak whenever they reached a redaction. On the second floor of the Heritage Foundation, senior legal fellow Charles Stimson muted CNBC, put on Chopin and worked the report with a yellow highlighter and yellow sticky notes.
“I’m not on Twitter or anything else,” Stimson said, “because it distracts from the task at hand.”
Law professor Joyce Vance read some of the report in an Alabama TV studio before an MSNBC hit, then continued reading on a car ride from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa.
“It can’t be skimmed in a quick, down-and-dirty fashion,” Vance emailed from the road. “It’s too important for that.”
Outside the front door of the Justice Department, an ABC News crew hooked an HP LaserJet Pro 400 printer to an electrical generator and printed paper copies of the report, which reporters assembled into binders to use for their live shots.
The spectacle compelled Susie Wood and her husband, John Vermeulen — tourists from Boston — to detour from their crosstown bike ride.
“But he’s redacted it, right?” Wood asked a producer sitting next to the printer.
“Much less redacted than I expected,” the producer said. “That’s all you’re going to hear about for the next few days.”
“Few days,” Vermeulen scoffed. “Few weeks.”
Inside the chandeliered foyer of Trump International Hotel, Estelle and Bob Wallace sat at the bar with a glass of Trump-branded wine and a $22 box of Trump-branded soap. Both semiretired, the Wallaces were on a cross-country RV trip from their home outside Phoenix. They paid minimal attention to the nearby cable-news coverage, but both had already concluded that the Mueller report was fatally flawed.
“One-sided,” said Estelle.
“They have a political agenda,” said Bob.
“I’m just going to get the summary later,” said Estelle. “Let other people read the 500 pages.”