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By Ken Dilanian
WASHINGTON — Three new court documents are scheduled to emerge Friday that could shed new light on what Donald Trump’s former top aides have been telling — or not telling — federal investigators.
A federal judge in New York has ordered that prosecutors for the Southern District of New York and the Special Counsel’s Office have until 5 p.m. Friday to deliver sentencing memos designed to detail former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s cooperation in their ongoing investigations.
And special counsel Robert Mueller is also due to file a document spelling out what his team previously referred to as the “crimes and lies” that led them to cancel a cooperation agreement with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Legal experts say it’s likely that both documents will contain sections that are blacked out, as was the case with the sentencing memo Mueller filed Tuesday in the case of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The theory that Mueller would use these documents to inform the public about the progress of his ongoing investigation into Russian election interference and related matters did not pan out in the case of the Flynn memo. Key sections of that memo were redacted, including crucial questions about what Trump knew and when about Flynn’s lies to the FBI — and a whole page describing a separate criminal investigation.
Mueller’s decision to withhold that information shows, some experts say, that the former FBI director does not feel that his investigation is at risk of being derailed by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who had expressed open hostility towards it before his appointment.
“He disclosed so little in the Flynn memo that it led me to conclude two things,” said former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner, an NBC News legal analyst. “One, he doesn’t have a sense of urgency, and two, he probably has a lot more investigating to do. If he was ready to show his cards, he wouldn’t have redacted all this stuff.”
Former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg says there may be something else at play:
“As usual, Mueller may be thinking two steps ahead of the rest of us.”
“If it’s public it won’t be sensitive and if it’s sensitive it won’t be public.”
Zeidenberg noted that Trump has not tweeted or uttered a word about Flynn since the sentencing memo on Flynn was filed, in contrast to Trump’s immediate attack on Cohen after Cohen pleaded guilty last week to lying about a Trump Tower project in Moscow.
“Trump’s been quite quiet since that filing,” Zeidenberg said. “He hasn’t attacked Flynn. If those blanks had been filled in, Trump’s head would have exploded — he’d be going crazy.”
“If Mueller waits and does his big reveal all at once, everything’s done. It’s too late” for Trump to engineer his firing, Zeidenberg said.
“If he were to have revealed everything on those redactions now, it could jeopardize ongoing matters, and it wouldn’t have been smart politically for his continued survival. I think it probably makes a lot of sense. Trump doesn’t want to attack Flynn because he doesn’t know whether Flynn is coming at him.”
As for the Southern District’s sentencing memo for Cohen, he is also cooperating in separate ongoing investigations that district prosecutors would likely want to keep secret, so that document may also be redacted.
Chuck Rosenberg, a former federal prosecutor and NBC News legal analyst who once worked with Mueller, said Mueller — a by-the-book former Marine combat leader — likely never considered making public anything to do with ongoing criminal matters.
The rule of thumb, he said, is “If it’s public it won’t be sensitive and if it’s sensitive it won’t be public.”
Rosenberg believes Friday’s filings will be “mildly interesting,” in that they may further describe in general terms how helpful prosecutors believe Cohen to have been, and also what sort of lies they allege Manafort told that blew up his plea deal.
But if Manafort’s lies were about Trump and Russian election interference, Rosenberg said, “We won’t see them.”
Tom Winter contributed.
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Everything you need to know
Four months after he sent his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign to Attorney General William Barr, former special counsel Robert Mueller will testify publicly Wednesday about what his investigators did — and didn’t — find.
Here’s a look at how and when to watch, and what to expect:
Mueller hearing time
His hearings won’t start that early, but they are early for Congress — he is set to begin his testimony promptly at 8:30 am before the House Judiciary Committee.
He’s expected to testify between 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to Judiciary, and then go before a second committee, House Intelligence, at noon for approximately two hours.
Who will be doing the questioning?
The Judiciary Committee has 41 members and the Intelligence Committee has 22. While all of the Intelligence committee members are expected to get five minutes to ask questions, it is likely that some members of the larger Judiciary panel will get less time for questioning.
Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is expected to make a brief opening statement, as is the panel’s ranking Republican, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia. Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and that committee’s ranking Republican, Schiff’s fellow Californian Rep. Devin Nunes, will each make five-minute opening statements at the Intel hearing.
Will Mueller make an opening statement?
A spokesman for Mueller said Monday he will make a brief opening statement before both committees before giving them a lengthy official statement — his 448-page report on Russian interference.
Will Congress get the unredacted report?
Not on Wednesday. The version of the report Mueller is submitting for the official record will have the same number of redactions that were made by the Attorney General before the document became public — over 900 of them.
What is Mueller expected to say?
He has said his report “speaks for itself” and that he won’t provide any information “beyond what is already public.”
Democrats say they aren’t expecting any new bombshells, but they believe Mueller’s testimony will be an eye-opener for the American public. Nadler told “Fox News Sunday” the report “presents very substantial evidence” that President Donald Trump “is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Schiff said he wants Mueller to bring his report “to life.”
At the Aspen Security Conference on Saturday, Schiff told NBC’s Kristen Welker that it could be worthwhile to have Mueller read some portions of the report out loud.
“I do think there’s value in particular passages in the report to have the special counsel literally speak it in his own words,” Schiff said.
Republicans are expected to press Mueller on the political affiliations of some of his prosecutors, who Trump has repeatedly derided as “angry Democrats.” They’re also expected to focus on the report’s bottom line — that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its interference in the 2016 election.
Trump has said the report concluded there was “no collusion” and ” no obstruction,” but Democratic lawmakers plan to highlight at least five instances of what they say is obstruction of justice from the report, staffers told NBC News.
“What’s important is there is truly shocking evidence of criminal misconduct by the president — not once but again and again and again — that would result in any other American being criminally charged in a multiple count indictment,” one Democrat staffer said last week.
Where can I watch the hearings?
NBC News will air a special report beginning at 8:15 a.m. ET that will continue into the afternoon through both sessions. On MSNBC, live coverage will start at 6 a.m. ET. The testimony will also stream live on NBC News NOW, NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, YouTube, and other streaming platforms beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Will Trump watch?
He said on Friday he would not, but acknowledged to reporters at the White House on Monday he would “probably” watch a little.
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