Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation may not have turned up courtroom-ready evidence that Trumpworld cooperated with the Kremlin during the 2016 campaign. But Mueller’s forthcoming report on that probe still has one of the president’s top outside allies vexed and worried.
John Dowd, who represented Trump for nearly a year of the 21-month investigation, told The Daily Beast he believes the report may cause trouble for Trump.
“I haven’t read it, but it’s just wholly unnecessary,” he said. “You just don’t need it. It’s pure mischief.”
The report, expected to run nearly 400 pages, will detail Mueller’s findings, but likely with heavy redactions. It’s one of the most anticipated documents in recent memory, and it already has its critics. Dowd, who called for Mueller’s probe to be ended long before that became Trumpian orthodoxy, is first among them. He said the report doesn’t need to be more than “five pages,” just a description of what Mueller did and whom he formally declined to prosecute.
“The trouble is, these special counsels inflate themselves, think they’re more important—and they’re not, in the scheme of things, and it ruptures the system of justice and it’s not fair,” Dowd said.
Dowd also criticized Mueller’s decision not to make a ruling about whether to charge Trump with obstruction of justice—a decision Attorney General Bill Barr revealed when he released a four-page letter about the report’s conclusions. (According to Barr, Mueller opted not to conclude whether to charge Trump, handing off the decision to others.)
“To me, it’s a probe that’s tainted by politics and by hate, and I don’t like it,” Dowd said.
With the report’s release growing closer by the hour, Mueller watchers beyond Dowd are bracing for impact—or lack thereof.
For almost two years now, the special counsel’s probe has generated every emotion known to humanity: Fox News’ opinion hosts have excoriated Mueller as an emissary from the Deep State; liberal activists have hailed him as a white knight; and those in the conspiratorial corners of the internet have even cooked up theories to argue that he was secretly in cahoots with Trump to hunt down pedophiles (or something of that nature).
“Mueller time” T-shirts became a hot item online. Publishing houses are preparing to frantically print hard-copy versions of the report. Legal experts have scored media contracts. The special counsel’s face even found its way onto devotional candles.
But despite the buildup and hype, some now predict that Mueller’s final product will contain mostly black rectangles and old news.
Ty Cobb, the lawyer who helmed the White House’s response to Mueller for a time, told The Daily Beast he doesn’t expect to be surprised by any of the findings.
“I’m interested in the lawyering. I’m interested to see how they handle the redactions, and I’m interested to see whether there’s anything that I didn’t already know,” he said. “I don’t anticipate any great revelations, given my familiarity with the events and the law, but I’ll be looking for them.”
Cobb hinted that the report may provide fodder for the president’s political foes.
“It will not surprise me if people seize on otherwise inconsequential things to perpetuate whatever conspiracy theory they’re attached to,” he said.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told The Daily Beast he also has zero concerns about the report—adding, however, that he suspects Mueller’s prosecutors may pepper it with “snide comments.”
Two other defense lawyers who dealt with Mueller’s team shared that expectation, with one predicting that the report will be a “non-event” because of redacted grand jury material, and another saying the report wouldn’t have any major bombshells or revelations.
“I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that when the report is out, cable news and the Democrats will act like they are hearing for the first time things that have been public for 15 months associated with the Comey firing, the Flynn issue, and the recusal,” said the second attorney, who requested anonymity because of client sensitivities. “And they will somehow try to make Barr look like he was less than candid when in fact he previewed this in his first letter that Sunday night.”
A Republican congressional staffer whose boss has been a vocal critic of the Mueller probe agreed. The staffer told The Daily Beast that their office has its fridges “stocked with Red Bull for a marathon speed-reading session.”
“I think it’s probably not going to be a good day for Republicans because any kind of color that the report on Thursday sheds onto this is only going to be upside for Democrats,” the staffer added. “Four hundred pages is a lot of ink to say no collusion and no obstruction. I’m sure the Democrats will find things to pick out and try to sensationalize.”
Overall, anticipation for the Mueller report on the Hill was muted, in large part because Congress was out of session. Among Democrats, the expectation was that redactions would be so thorough that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) would have to issue a subpoena for the unredacted material within 24 hours. On the Republican side, there was a feeling of near nonchalance. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a longtime Trump defender, said he would be visiting the border when the special counsel’s findings were released, texting a selfie of himself wearing shades before a metal-slatted wall, in the Arizona sun.
Russia-gate obsessives critical to the president, meanwhile, were telegraphing a different kind of stoicism. Ben Wittes, a longtime friend of ex-FBI director James Comey and the editor in chief of the Lawfare blog, who became internet-famous for tweeting “tick tick tick” before major stories about Russian interference broke, said he has tried to steel himself for the report’s release.
“I think it is a mistake to get emotionally involved, and I try not to do it,” he said. “And I think we all need to be emotionally prepared for answers that don’t validate our premises and also for answers that are orthogonal to our premises.”
Max Bergmann, who helmed a project on Russia’s 2016 election interference for the liberal Center for American Progress, noted that because explosive revelations, such as the meeting between Trump campaign and Russian officials at Trump Tower, had already been made public, people had likely grown desensitized to the gravity of the investigative findings.
“I’ve read the Mueller indictments and the information out in the public, and that info, in and of itself, is extremely damning,” he said. “I do think if there is nothing built off of that, then Mueller has a lot of questions to answer.”
But beyond the concession that the Mueller’s final report may just reaffirm prior opinions, Bergmann had another fear. Barr, he said, could redact so much as to make Mueller’s final verdict unrecognizable.
“Look,” said Bergmann, “sometimes cover-ups work.”
—With additional reporting by Asawin Suebsaeng