The Daily Beast snickers a bit over how half-assed the effort sounds (no original investigation or interviews with witnesses) but it’s exactly the right strategic move by Trump and his team, I think. I’m beating a dead horse in making this point, but Giuliani has always seemed to approach this process as fundamentally a PR effort whose goal is nothing more or less than making sure Trump keeps his job. Mueller’s going to say what he’s going to say and there’s nothing the White House can do about it. What it can do is prepare the battlespace such that whatever Mueller ends up saying won’t justify 67 votes for removal in the Senate.
The core of that strategy has been to attack the integrity of the investigation, vehemently and repeatedly and led by the president himself, so that Republican voters view it as illegitimate even if no one else does. Those are the only people whom Trump needs to persuade because, in the end, Senate Republicans won’t vote to remove him if they know it’ll cost them their seats. The happy news for Team Trump is that many Republican voters are already heavily predisposed to believe whatever he tells them. The less happy news is that not all are guaranteed to do so; again, there’s nothing the White House can do about any bombshells Mueller might have in his arsenal. So what do you do to try to keep those possibly wavering Republicans in your corner?
You prepare a counter-report:
According to Giuliani, the bulk of the report will be divided into two sections. One section will seek to question the legitimacy of the Mueller probe generally by alleging “possible conflicts” of interest by federal law enforcement authorities. The other section will respond to more substantive allegations of Trump campaign collusion with Russian government agents to sway the 2016 election, and obstruction of justice allegations stemming from, among other things, the president’s firing of former FBI director James Comey…
“Since we have to guess what [Mueller’s findings will be], [our report so far] is quite voluminous,” Giuliani said, claiming that he would spend much of this weekend “paring it down” and that he was editing the document created by the “whole team.”…
“I don’t think there’s anything in it that isn’t publicly available in some form or another,” he continued. “There is no [secret] grand jury material here…It’ll be our report, put out on…personal stationary, and it would be in response to their report…We may have to use it in court, or [send to] Congress.”
In other words, it’s going to be a lengthy restatement of all the “witch hunt!” arguments to date, nothing any of us haven’t heard before. It’s not even a proper “counter”-report since, as Giuliani says, they’re writing it without knowing what Mueller will say. It’s not a rebuttal to specific allegations. How useful can it possibly be?
Pretty useful. Even if it’s half-assed, even if it doesn’t address the most damning evidence produced by Mueller, the mere fact that Giuliani et al. will have unspooled 100+ pages of criticism of the Russiagate investigation will allow people to convert their partisan interests in protecting Trump into principled or quasi-principled reasons for doing so. It’s not that we’re protecting a fellow Republican, GOPers will say, it’s that there’s an entire report out there that discredits Mueller’s team, or at least purports to.
The point of the counter-report, that is, is simply to reduce Mueller’s report to the status of a partisan argument itself by implication. The Democratic/Mueller side is saying one thing and the Republican side is saying another. Why should we let a standard partisan dispute justify the removal of a duly elected president? What the counter-report actually says is less important than the fact that it exists, as it balances the psychological scales between removal of the president and acquittal, at least among the voters whom Senate Republicans care about most. The fact that they’re planning a long opening section on the origination of the investigation and “conflicts of interest” by Mueller is smart as well, since that can always be used to hedge against bombshells that Mueller does produce and for which Trump and Giuliani have no good answers. It’s a “fruit of the poisonous tree” argument, a last-ditch way to try to get Trump off the hook if impeachment makes it to the Senate and things look like they could go either way. Persuade enough Republican voters that removal would be unfair because the investigation never should have begun, regardless of the evidence it actually produced, and *maybe* you can pressure enough Senate Republicans to stand down. Maybe.