Will Congress see more of Mueller report than the public after all?

Welcome to Muellermas, the glorious day when all of the political kiddies get to unwrap the present Santa Robert has left under their tree. Rather than arriving at midnight, however, the Mueller report will arrive sometime around noon today. However, Santa Robert’s little helper will hold a pre-release press conference at 9:30 ET this morning to talk about … what, exactly?

Coming to a Justice Department near you: The most highly anticipated investigative report in at least a generation, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, gets some pre-release hype at 9:30 EDT on Thursday in Washington before its wide release later in the day.

Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will be on hand at the Justice Department to deliver the (perhaps heavily redacted) goods. So as one of the few events that could preempt “Today” and “Good Morning America” gets underway, here are some of the key questions surrounding the report.

Democrats already criticized the attorney general for issuing a four-page summary of Mueller’s report weeks before releasing it. And some are asking why Barr would hold a press conference on it Thursday rather then let the report speak for itself.

Are Democrats alone in asking that question? It does seem a bit curious. Barr has already summarized the report’s conclusions in a four-page letter to Congress. If he wanted to expand on his summary, Barr could have held a presser at any time after releasing the summary. Presumably, Barr wants to pre-empt any criticism over the redactions in the report by meeting the press on his own terms this morning. However, that’s going to be tough to do when no one has seen the report and can’t ask informed questions about the extent of the redactions.

Of course, that’s the point. One does not have to have a (D) following one’s name to view this pre-buttal with a little bit of skepticism. Barr could easily have chosen to hold a presser immediately after the release and made a better show of his pre-emption. Better yet, why not hold the presser at 3 or 4 ET and allow for some informed questions about the report? It’s a curious strategy for avoidance considering that Congress will be asking lots of questions about the report the next time Barr has to appear on the Hill.

Maybe they’ll be asking fewer questions than we think. According to a filing in the Roger Stone prosecution, Congressional leadership will get to read a version of the report with fewer black bars over the naughty bits:

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson has imposed a strict gag order in the case, forbidding Stone and the government from making public comments that could affect whether Stone receives a fair trial.

In their filing, prosecutors assured the judge that her order is being considered as redactions were made to a version of the Mueller report set to be publicly released Thursday. In particular, they wrote that information related to the charges in Stone’s case will be redacted from the report.

They also alerted the judge, however, that the Justice Department intends to “make available for review” a version of the report without “certain redactions” to “a limited number of Members of Congress and their staff.”

Among the information that will be left unredacted, prosecutors said, will be material about the Stone investigation.

Hmmm. The lucky girls and boys in Congress will surely include the Gang of Eight, the four members of each party with responsibility for intelligence and leadership. (Insert joke here.) That includes the top leaders of each caucus in both chambers, plus the chairs and ranking members of both intel committees. Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes will make the cut without doubt. Will the Department of Justice also include the Judiciary Committee leaders? Almost certainly, which means that Jerrold Nadler will get his peek at the New And Improved Version With 20% Less Black Ink!

If they plan to leak some of the redacted information, though, watch out. Judge Berman Jackson is not afraid to impose penalties for monkeying around with her orders, although in this case she might just be limited to penalizing prosecutors. That means, ironically, if Schiff and Nadler go blabbing about redactions that have any relation to this case, they might end up letting Roger Stone off the hook. Since jeopardy will have likely attached at that point, they would end up letting Trump off the hook on a pardon decision, too.

We’ll know more later today, of course, but don’t bet on there being any game-changers in either direction. As I wrote yesterday at The Week, both sides have raised expectations so high that even Muellermas couldn’t possibly meet them. Until then, here’s a handy guide for what Barr plans to cover at 9:30 am today. Not sure why these couldn’t wait until after the release of the report, though.