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Release Of Redacted Version Of Mueller Report Expected Thursday

Apr 17, 2019

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're expecting a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report to be released tomorrow. Lawmakers and the public alike will get the chance to read for themselves what the special counsel unearthed, disregarded and concluded. And while fights over the report are going to keep going, this release is the culmination of investigations that go back nearly three years, reaching across continents and into President Trump's inner circle. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas takes us back to the beginning.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: The investigation began in late July of 2016, when the FBI quietly opened its probe into possible links between the Trump campaign in Russia. That investigation, code named Operation Crossfire Hurricane, remained a closely held secret through the end of the 2016 campaign. It was not until March of 2017 - two months after Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States - that the American public would learn about the probe when then-FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress.

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JAMES COMEY: I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

LUCAS: That announcement triggered what would become a bare-knuckle political fight on Capitol Hill. Democrats pointed to a lengthy list of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, wondering whether they meant that Trump's aides had worked with the Kremlin as it interfered in the election. Republicans, in contrast, took aim at those investigating the president and his associates. But it was a decision by the president himself in early May that would truly turn official Washington on its head.

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UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Breaking news tonight. President Trump has fired FBI Director James Comey. A stunning move...

LUCAS: Eight days later, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. The man picked to lead the probe was Robert Mueller, a decorated Vietnam veteran and former FBI director who had served in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Mueller quickly pulled together a high-powered investigative team. It included some of the Justice Department's best lawyers, top-notch attorneys from private law firms and dozens of experienced FBI agents. Over the next 22 months, the special counsel's team quietly issued nearly 3,000 subpoenas, and executed some 500 search warrants and interviewed around the same number of witnesses.

Most importantly, Mueller's team produced results. Thirty-four individuals, including 25 Russian nationals, as well as three Russian entities, were indicted in the investigation. Mueller secured guilty pleas from seven people, including Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, the president's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Each new indictment shook the nation's capital. And as the months dragged on, the investigation loomed over the Trump White House. The President frequently lashed out at the FBI, the Justice Department, Mueller and his probe.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The entire thing has been a witch hunt, and there is no collusion.

It's a witch hunt. That's all it is. There was no collusion.

It's a total witch hunt. I've been saying it for a long time.

It's all a made-up fantasy. It's a witch hunt.

The witch hunt continues.

LUCAS: In January, Trump's longtime informal adviser Roger Stone was indicted for lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks. That fueled speculation about Mueller's final move. Were more indictments in the pipeline? Would the president himself or his family be ensnared? By this time, much of the political fight around the probe centered on what would happen to Mueller's final report on the investigation. Democrats and most Republicans agreed - the American public should be able to see for itself what Mueller had found. The ultimate decision though would be in the hands of the new attorney general, William Barr. At his confirmation hearing, Barr told lawmakers he wanted to be as transparent as possible.

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WILLIAM BARR: I also believe it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel's work. My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law.

LUCAS: Late last month, Mueller submitted his report to Barr. The attorney general took a weekend to review the materials and then sent a four-page letter to Congress with the top-line conclusions. It was good news for an anxious White House. Barr's letter said Mueller's team did not find that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government. It also said that on the question of obstruction of justice, the special counsel did not conclude that the president committed a crime, but it also did not exonerate him.

President Trump and his allies declared victory. Democrats demanded to see Mueller's full report and all of the underlying documents. Here's the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff.

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ADAM SCHIFF: This report is going to have to be made public. And of equal importance, the underlying evidence is going to have to be shared with Congress because that evidence not only goes to the issue of criminality, but it also goes to the issue of compromise.

LUCAS: House Democrats have raised questions about whether Russia holds financial or some other form of leverage over Trump. And they have threatened to subpoena the full report and underlying investigative materials. Barr so far has promised only to provide Congress and the public with a redacted version. Ryan Lucas, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.