WASHINGTON -- The most consequential editing process in the country is taking place behind closed doors in drab government offices.
Lawyers from the Justice Department and the special counsel's office are going word by word, sentence by sentence through the nearly 400-page confidential report that Robert S. Mueller III completed last month, striking out tidbits as they prepare to release a redacted version to the public.
They've identified four categories of protected information and assigned different colors to each one to identify each cut or trim. For now, the four hues are as closely guarded as the report's contents.
At stake is not just what information becomes public from the special counsel's 22-month investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election, but also the credibility of the entire enterprise.
Too many redactions or a botched process could deepen political uncertainty surrounding the Russia investigation and fuel concerns that Attorney General William Barr is deliberately shielding President Donald Trump from scrutiny.
"It's important that the public see it, and also that the public have confidence (that) what they're seeing is the real thing, and not some partial facsimile of the real thing," said David S. Kris, a former assistant attorney general for national security in the Obama administration.
Kris, a founder of Culper Partners consultants, said the redaction process could be "extremely frustrating" for officials reviewing the document. "I'm sure they're feeling the pressure," he said, "not only to do this well but to do it quickly."
The process can be arduous, especially when multiple agencies are involved, but the effort appeared near completion over the weekend.
"When they have a deadline, they can get it done," said Mark S. Zaid, a Washington lawyer who works on national security issues.
Trump's lawyers have prepared a counter report to give the public a competing narrative to Mueller's document. Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who represents the president, said Sunday that the legal team was "polishing it up."