Some of the more than one dozen current and former White House officials who cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller are worried that the version of his report expected to be made public on Thursday will expose them as the source of damaging information about President Donald Trump, according to multiple witnesses in the investigation.Some of the officials and their lawyers have sought clarity from the Justice Department on whether the names of those who cooperated with Mueller’s team will be redacted or if the public report will be written in a way that makes it obvious who shared certain details of Trump’s actions that were part of the obstruction of justice probe, people familiar with the discussions said. But, they said, the Justice Department has refused to elaborate.
As one former White House official said, “They got asked questions and told the truth, and now they’re worried the wrath will follow.” The fact that they’re so concerned tells us two important things.
First, it tells us that they revealed damaging information to Mueller. If Trump’s version of events were true — nobody did anything wrong, there was no obstruction, there was no collusion, everything was completely appropriate — then Trump staffers would have no reason to fear their boss’s wrath. Everything they would have been able to tell Mueller would only have served to prove Trump’s innocence, and the report would bear that out. But that’s obviously not the case.
Second, it tells us that Trump expected them to lie under oath. Or, at the very least, to conceal things. A different president might say to his staffers, “I know that it might cause some political problems for me, but when you get questioned, you have to just tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. There’s no other choice, and I won’t blame you for it.”
But the people who work for Trump know that he doesn’t feel that way. This, after all, is a man who calls people who tell prosecutors about crimes they have witnessed “rats” as though he were a mob boss, and says, “It’s called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal.”
There’s plenty of precedent for them to look to. If there’s one thing that’s clear by now, it’s that if you work for Trump, when people ask you about anything related to Russia, you’re supposed to lie. A quick recap:
- Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen lied to Congress about Trump’s efforts during the campaign to secure a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
- Donald Trump Jr. lied about his meeting with a group of Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
- Rudolph W. Giuliani lied about that meeting, too.
- Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
- George Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about his attempts to get Clinton dirt from Russia.
- Paul Manafort lied about his relationship with a supposed Russian intelligence asset to whom he passed the campaign’s polling data.
- Jeff Sessions had convenient memory lapses about his own contacts with Russians during the campaign.
- Roger Stone allegedly lied about his contacts with WikiLeaks.
- And, of course, President Trump himself told one lie after another about Russia.
A number of those people have been indicted or pleaded guilty for lying to one official body or another. But some people around Trump, at least, didn’t want to suffer the same fate, so they apparently told investigators the truth. Now they’re worried that the report will confirm this, and that it will enrage Trump. So what do they do now?
At this point, they wait for Attorney General Barr to save them — and he well might, because by now there’s almost no question that the redactions Barr makes will be designed to minimize the political damage to Trump.
Despite a long history of elite positions in the legal profession in Washington, Barr is plainly a partisan. He got his job because he wrote a 19-page memo to the Justice Department claiming that “Mueller’s obstruction theory is fatally misconceived.” Then he wrote a summary of Mueller’s report that was so tendentious in its attempt to exonerate Trump that it led some on Mueller’s team to break their long silence and tell others that it distorted their actual findings. Then he validated Trump’s absurd conspiracy theory about the Justice Department “spying” on his 2016 campaign.
The idea that, after all that, Barr will now redact the report in only the most professional manner, without any eye to what might protect Trump, is ludicrous. The Trump staffers worried that their unwillingness to perjure themselves might cost them their jobs don’t exactly have nothing at all to worry about; we won’t know for sure until the redacted report is released. But they can at least take comfort in the knowledge that every attempt is being made to ensure that as little as possible of the damaging information in the Mueller report ever sees the light of day.