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Republicans and Democrats already don't trust each other on the Mueller report. Barr is making it worse.

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Attorney General William Barr Testifies To House Appropriations Committee On Capitol Hill
Attorney General William Barr testifies about the Justice Department's FY2020 budget request before the House Appropriations Committee's Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Capitol Hill on April 09, 2019.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — It’s Mueller Report Day, and the timing of the release is causing a new round of finger-pointing and distrust.

Here’s how this will all unfold, per our Justice Department reporting team: Attorney General William Barr will give a press conference at 9:30am ET, BEFORE the redacted report is seen by Congress and the public. Members of Congress will THEN get copies on CDs between 11am ET and noon, and the redacted version of the report will be made public on the Special Counsel’s web site after that.

The timing has Democrats fuming and arguing that Barr is trying to pre-spin the narrative at the president’s behest. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have called on him to cancel the press conference, and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer now say they want Mueller himself to testify publicly.

It’s worth noting that both sides want to see the full report, though for very different reasons. If you’re Devin Nunes, you want the full report because you don’t trust Robert Mueller. If you’re Adam Schiff, you want it because you don’t trust Barr.

Imagine how this process would be playing out, though, if Barr had given Trump’s skeptics more reasons to give him the benefit of the doubt.

He could have given no early summary of the Mueller report at all, or he could have simply said it found no prosecutable conclusions. He could have avoided using the phrase "spying" to refer to the government’s intel work on Trump during the campaign. He could have not allowed DOJ officials to discuss the report with the White House at all, or at least been forthcoming about his team’s communications with Trump’s lawyers. He could have just let the report speak for itself today without a press conference. And he could have released it on a day that’s not bumping up against a holiday weekend.

If Barr had made those choices, how much different would today’s release feel?

We already knew that, whatever the report actually says, there will be widespread disagreement about what it all means, because of these high levels of distrust. And the public’s trust in the rule of law is probably less than it was when the Mueller report began.

That's probably a win for Trump overall. But it's sad news for our political system, and Barr's choices here have made it worse instead of better.


In the Trump era, plenty of things seem pretty black-and-white. But when it comes to the Mueller report and public opinion, it's wise to embrace some ambiguity.

Ambiguity was the message we got from the NBC/WSJ poll immediately after Barr released his summary of the Mueller report in late March.

In the immediate aftermath of that release, a sizable third of Americans said they were unsure whether or not Trump had been cleared of wrongdoing or not — including nearly half of independents.

And the poll found that Americans weren’t even paying that much attention to the story, at least compared with other big events in Trump’s campaign and presidency — like the Access Hollywood tape and his firing of James Comey.

A separate Fox News poll out yesterday found that 65 percent of voters said that the Mueller investigation has not changed how they feel about the president.

And, of course, Trump's approval rating through all of the Mueller ups and downs has remained remarkably stable.

So — of course — expect wall-to-wall coverage, a cascade of White House reaction, and lots of sound and fury in D.C.

But when the dust settles, there's a good chance that public opinion about Trump remains the same as it ever was.


The other story that would be dominating the news cycle today if not for Mueller is North Korea’s test of a new weapon.

From the AP: “North Korea has test-fired a "new-type tactical guided weapon," its state media announced Thursday, in a possible attempt to register displeasure with currently deadlocked nuclear talks with the United States without causing those coveted negotiations to collapse.”

Kim Jong Un “observed the firing by the Academy of Defense Science of the unspecified weapon on Wednesday, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency said. Kim was reported to have said that ‘the development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People's Army.’”

North Korea also now says that it no longer wants Secretary of State Mike Pompeo involved in nuclear talks, saying they prefer someone who is “more careful and mature in communicating.”

North Korea has been the administration’s top foreign policy objective, and the one Trump has touted the most as a victory. But is it all unraveling now?

The way this is playing out all feels very predictable, too. Who could have seen this coming? Anyone who’s worked on North Korea before.


The former governor of Virginia announced on CNN last night that he’s taking a pass on 2020.

“I've listened to the Virginians and I'm going to help Virginia for the next six months. I could spend eight months traveling around the country running for president, or six months really making a difference,” he said, adding that he could have beaten Trump “like a rented mule.”


Joe Biden rallies to support Stop & Shop workers in the Boston area... Beto O'Rourke has three stops in New Hampshire, and Eric Swalwell is also in the Granite State.... Kirsten Gillibrand continues her Iowa swing... Jay Inslee is in Los Angeles.. Bernie Sanders holds a town hall in South Carolina... and Cory Booker campaigns in Las Vegas.



22 percent

That’s the number of registered Republican voters who say that they admire the late John McCain over President Trump in Fox News’ new poll.

A majority of Republicans, 57 percent, chose the president.

The discrepancy is further proof of what we already know—Trump has remade the Republican electorate in his image.

And even though Trump spent the final years of McCain’s life criticizing his record as a war hero and for voting against the GOP health care plan, the president still is coming out on top where it matters most to him—among his base.

A majority of all registered voters, self-identified moderates and self-identified independents all said they admired McCain over Trump. The only subgroups who chose the president were those who identified as Republicans or said they voted for Trump in 2016.


Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at Elizabeth Warren's strategy of releasing highly detailed policy papers, even while other candidates are winging it on specifics.


Rick Perry’s spokeswoman is denying a new Bloomberg report that the energy secretary is looking at leaving the administration.

Reuters reports on a simmering dispute within the Trump administration over allegations some officials are exaggerating the threat posed by Iran.

Kamala Harris said she feels “regret” over the “unintended consequences” of the truancy program she oversaw as state attorney general.

Herman Cain says he’s not withdrawing from consideration for the Fed

Other news that's out there...


National Security Adviser John Bolton defended the administration’s more antagonistic posture toward Cuba compared to other countries such as Russia.

Ivanka Trump said that her father asked her whether she wanted to serve as the head of the World bank.

A new Housing and Urban Development proposal would clamp down on undocumented immigrants receiving government housing aid.

The New York Times reports that former Fox News contributor Monica Crowley, who previously pulled out of contention for an administration job over plagiarism allegations, is the leading candidate for a top spot in the Treasury Department’s press shop.


Pete Buttigieg, who is aiming to be the first gay president in American history, has faced anti-gay protesters during his swing through Iowa.

Amy Klobuchar will do a Fox News town hall.

Does Beto O’Rourke need to do more cable?