Trump Lawyers Up to Fight Release of the Mueller Report

After news reports indicated that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein planned to leave his job, NBC reported this:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had been overseeing the special counsel investigation, plans to step down after Robert Mueller finishes his work, according to administration officials familiar with his thinking.

A source close to Rosenstein said he intends to stay on until Mueller’s investigative and prosecutorial work is done. The source said that would mean Rosenstein would remain until early March. Several legal sources have said they expect the Mueller team to conclude its work by mid-to-late February, although they said that timeline could change based on unforeseen investigative developments.

For those of us who have been waiting—sometimes not so patiently—for Mueller to file his report, that came as welcome news. But we’ve been there before; expecting that the end of the investigation was imminent, only to learn that it wasn’t.

However, news from the White House indicates that they are also preparing for Mueller to finish his work.

A beefed-up White House legal team is gearing up to prevent President Trump’s confidential discussions with top advisers from being disclosed to House Democratic investigators and revealed in the special counsel’s long-awaited report, setting the stage for a potential clash between the branches of government.

The strategy to strongly assert the president’s executive privilege on both fronts is being developed under newly arrived White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who has hired 17 lawyers in recent weeks to help in the effort…

There is a growing sense that the special counsel’s closely held investigation could come to culmination soon. Some Trump advisers think Mueller could deliver the confidential report explaining his findings to senior Justice Department officials next month. Under the rules authorizing the special counsel, the attorney general can then decide whether to share the report or parts of it with Congress and the public.

The person who will make the decision about whether or not to release Mueller’s report will either be acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker or attorney general nominee William Barr. Both men seem to have been chosen for this position primarily with the understanding that they would withhold the report from congress and the public. That will be challenged in court, and it is clear that the White House legal team is getting beefed up to claim executive privilege as a defense.

In terms of what happens next, this is not hyperbole:

The legal showdown could be one of the most significant debates over presidential executive privilege since President Richard Nixon sought to block the release of his White House tapes in the Watergate investigation.

That didn’t end well for Nixon. Most legal scholars think that Trump will face the same fate because Mueller’s report will be too important to both Congress and the public interest. But then, that is what the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh was all about.

In any case, I doubt there is anything the president can do to keep what Mueller has learned a secret. It just might take a while to sort it all out.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .