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Why the Mueller Report Is Causing ‘Breakdown-Level’ Stress Among White House Staff

Trump has not been kind to those who have cooperated with authorities to his detriment

Special counsel Robert Mueller departs St. John's Episcopal Church, across from the White House in Washington. Democrats say they want "all of the underlying evidence" in Mueller's investigation. But what is all of that evidenceMueller The Evidence, Washington, USA - 24 Mar 2019

Special counsel Robert Mueller departs St. John's Episcopal Church, across from the White House in Washington. Democrats say they want "all of the underlying evidence" in Mueller's investigation. But what is all of that evidence?

Cliff Owen/AP/REX/Shutterstock

More than qualifications, more than intelligence, more than a Rolodex filled with Russian oligarchs, President Trump values loyalty. It’s why he’s installed family members into high-profile administration positions, made his buddies ambassadors and put the welfare of military veterans in the hands of Mar-a-Lago members. It’s also why the current and former White House staff members are reportedly worried about what may be revealed when a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report is released to the public on Thursday. According to NBC News, more than a dozen officials who cooperated with Mueller’s investigation are concerned they will be outed as a source of information that hurts the president.

One person close to the situation told NBC News there is “breakdown-level anxiety” among the staff who cooperated. A former White House official said there is concern among staff that “the wrath” of Trump and his allies “will follow” if they are revealed to have provided the special counsel with information that doesn’t reflect well on Trump, particularly regarding his potential obstruction of justice.

“You have a whole bunch of former White House officials and current White House officials, but especially former White House officials, who were told to cooperate,” said the former official. “So people went and did that, and now the uncertainty is just how much of that information is going to be in that report and how identifiable to individuals is it going to be. And nobody knows.”

Helping fuel the concern is the lack of clarity about what’s in the report and what will be redacted. Attorney General William Barr didn’t divulge much in the “principal conclusions” he released barely 48 hours after the report was filed to the Justice Department last month. The redaction guidelines he later outlined in a letter to congressional leaders were vague as well. Even if their names are redacted, current and former White House staffers worry, they still may be identifiable based on the context of the disclosures. “Nobody has any idea what this is going to look like on Thursday,” the former official told NBC.

Trump has not been kind to staffers who have contributed to the spread of unflattering details about the administration. Throughout his time in office, the president has publicly railed against “leakers” who have spoken to the press about his dysfunctional administration. Last September, in the wake of a highly publicized op-ed in which an anonymous staffer detailed the lengths the administration goes to prevent Trump from destroying the country, Axios reported that the president had grown increasingly paranoid about the trustworthiness of his underlings, and even carried around a handwritten list of suspected leakers. “We’ve gotta get rid of them,'” a source close to Trump quoted him as saying. “The snakes are everywhere but we’re getting rid of them.”

Very normal.

One administration figure who seems to have had a lot to say about the president’s below-board dealings is former White House Counsel Don McGahn. On Sunday, ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported that the White House is worried about what McGahn, who sat down with Mueller’s team for at least 30 hours, may have told the special counsel about the president’s potential obstruction of justice, particularly regarding his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. According to Karl, the White House never debriefed McGahn, who left the administration last October, about what he told the special counsel’s office. Considering he served as legal counsel, he could have been privy to quite a few incriminating conversations.

Though no one knows what will be included in the redacted version of Mueller’s findings on Thursday, the concern throughout the White House underscores the reality of the president’s indiscretions. If he were truly innocent, as he claims, no one would have anything to worry about, and the president wouldn’t have to nervously tweet something like “No Collusion – No Obstruction!” every morning, as he did on Tuesday.

He’ll likely make the same claim again on Thursday, regardless of what damaging information his staffers may have divulged to Mueller’s office.


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