Democrats pressing the Justice Department to quickly release the Mueller report may soon need to find a Plan B.
The Department of Justice expects to issue a redacted version of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s findings to Congress and the public within weeks. The timeline is likely to exceed the Tuesday deadline a cadre of House Democrats set for Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrAlmost half in new poll still say Trump, Russia colluded The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition – Fresh off Mueller win, Trump presses for GOP health care push Pelosi, Dems look for upside to Mueller report MORE to turn over the full report.
That raises a number of questions for Democrats about how hard to push for the release of the report, which Mueller submitted to Barr on Friday. Democrats are also pressing for the text to be released in full without heavy redactions — something Barr has not committed to and is unlikely to deliver on.
Furthermore, Democrats want to see all the underlying evidence Mueller used to draft his conclusions, another request that has slim odds of being fulfilled by the attorney general.
If the Justice Department fails to meet those demands, subpoenas may be the next step. But Democrats won’t say yet if that’s their plan.
“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” said Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsOxyContin manufacturer reaches 0M settlement with Oklahoma: Report Clyburn: Question of obstruction of justice is ‘still on the table’ Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar MORE (D-Md.). “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Still, Cummings said the Justice Department needs “to get it done sooner.”
“I am very concerned that it is apparent that the department will not meet the April 2nd deadline that we set and I’m very disturbed by that,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMueller report: The rhetoric of rage and division continues Bar must be kept high for release of entire Mueller report READ: Barr’s letter to Congress summarizing Mueller findings MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday, saying he had just spoken with Barr. “I asked whether he could commit that the full report with the underlying documents would be provided to Congress and the American people, he wouldn’t make a commitment to that.”
“April 2nd is a hard deadline that we set and we mean it,” he added.
Nadler would not say whether his committee would issue a subpoena if Barr didn’t hand over the Mueller report by that date.
“We will wait until after April 2nd and we will make those decisions,” he said.
Democrats are bolstered by polling that indicates broad support for releasing the report in full. A Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday found that 84 percent of Americans surveyed want Mueller’s report made public.
“The publication of the full Mueller report has such overwhelming public support and had a unanimous vote on the House floor,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff defiant: ‘Undoubtedly, there is collusion’ Webb: Mueller report, Barr letter, political fodder On The Money: Waters says Deutsche Bank providing Trump’s records for probe | House fails to override Trump veto | Trump faces backlash for tapping Fed critic for bank MORE (D-Calif.). “I think anyone who tries to get in the way, either in Congress or the Justice Department, is going to run into a buzz saw of opposition from the public.”
Schiff said he believes a subpoena would be “a topic of immediate discussion on April 3 if we don’t have the report.”
Barr’s four-page summary of the conclusions of the Mueller report put Democrats on the defensive as President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff defiant: ‘Undoubtedly, there is collusion’ Barbara Bush blamed Trump for ‘heart attack’: book Almost half in new poll still say Trump, Russia colluded MORE and others have gone on to hail the findings as a victory. The attorney general sent shock waves through Washington on Sunday when he revealed Mueller’s investigation had not established that the Trump campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.
But Barr also set off mass speculation when he wrote that Mueller did not determine whether Trump had obstructed justice. Instead, Barr stated that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinPelosi, Dems look for upside to Mueller report Comey says he finds Mueller’s obstruction decision ‘confusing’ George Conway: Mueller report must have ‘something pretty damning’ if it can’t exonerate Trump MORE reviewed the evidence laid out by Mueller and determined it was “not sufficient” to bring an obstruction of justice charge against Trump.
Democrats point out that the public has not seen Mueller’s full findings, paid for by taxpayer money, and that the highlighted conclusions came through the prism and pen of an attorney general appointed by Trump. They have zeroed in on Barr’s decision to absolve Trump of obstruction of justice accusations despite Mueller opting not to make a judgment on the matter.
Still, Democrats have limited power to force the Justice Department to release the report by Tuesday, and they run the risk of overreaching with their demands.
Meanwhile, Trump and his GOP allies have gone on the attack, arguing Barr’s summary alone serves as an exoneration of the president. Several Republicans have called for Democrats like Schiff, who argued ahead of Barr’s letter that there was “ample evidence” the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, to resign or at least apologize for previous comments.
“The problem they have is, if you go back and look at everything they said before the Mueller report, they’ve lost all credibility, from Adam Schiff saying, ‘We’ve got clear evidence of collusion,’” said Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyGOP lawmakers: House leaders already jockeying for leadership contests Pentagon: Trump’s ‘cost plus 50’ plan hasn’t been discussed with Europe Liz Cheney: Dems are ‘enabling anti-Semitism’ MORE (R-Wyo.), House Republican Conference chairwoman.
“The Mueller report has proven them wrong and I think the American people going forward are really going to question their credibility. When they start to do anything else, they can to bring up these issues again,” she added.
Barr is consulting with Mueller, other prosecutors and officials to determine how to redact the report so it can be shared with Congress — a process that is expected to take weeks, though the Justice Department has not committed to a firm timeline.
“We hope to have a public version of the report to Congress and the public in weeks, not months,” a Justice Department official said this week.
Barr is expected to redact grand jury material, classified national security information and details that could compromise ongoing investigations from the public version. Federal rules prohibit officials from publicly releasing information arising from grand jury proceedings.
While the Justice Department has indicated the White House will not receive an advanced copy of the document, legal experts suspect the department would consider executive privilege issues when reviewing the report for public release.
If that leads to a heavily redacted document, Democrats are certain to voice their anger.
“If we get something that is some huge percentage that is redacted, I think there will be a push to find out that information and we will probably want to talk to Mueller,” said Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiHouse passes series of measures hitting Russia, Putin Cummings says he needs to examine Cohen’s testimony further amid GOP allegations of perjury House Intel obtains new info, documents from Cohen in 8-hour interview MORE (D-Ill.).
Other Democrats expressed concern the president will have weeks to capitalize on Barr’s summary, with Trump saying he is “exonerated” even though it is possible Mueller’s full report contains information damaging to the administration.
“They are stalling for time in the hopes that the narrative that the media fell for in the immediate aftermath of the delivery of the summary will take hold so that whatever unflattering or worse aspects of the Mueller report will have little impact because by then we will have already made up our minds that there was nothing there, when in fact there may be lots there,” said Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyPelosi presses Dems to focus on agenda post-Mueller House Dem: Barr and Trump administration ‘gaming the system’ on Mueller report House passes series of measures hitting Russia, Putin MORE (D-Va.).
Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesPelosi, Dems look for upside to Mueller report Pelosi presses Dems to focus on agenda post-Mueller Top Dem: ‘Certainly a possibility’ that Congress will call Barr, Mueller to testify publicly MORE (D-N.Y.), citing Nadler, said Tuesday the party’s initial plan is to secure the public release of the report before seeking the testimony of Barr and other officials.
“We expect that the attorney general will disclose it no later than April 2nd,” Jeffries said.
He stipulated that while Democrats are willing to accept Justice Department redactions to protect “sources and methods … in the interest of national security,” they will be less forgiving if the administration suppresses information related to grand jury testimony.
Subpoenaing the Justice Department for the report or any of the underlying evidence, however, could set up a fight with the executive branch in federal court. Congressional subpoenas typically get resolved through negotiation rather than by a judge.
“Ultimately, the only way to actually enforce a congressional subpoena is to hold the witness in contempt and then go to federal court,” said Jack Sharman, a former special counsel to Congress during the Whitewater investigation in the 1990s.
“Those things normally get worked out, and the issuance of the subpoena or contempt vote serve political ends for the members much more than a substantive investigatory end,” Sharman said.
He added that the Tuesday deadline is not feasible for the Justice Department to meet, given the breadth and scope of Mueller’s probe. It is unclear exactly how long or detailed Mueller’s documentation is.
Nadler told reporters Wednesday that Barr told him it was a “very substantial report.” He said he believed the report was less than 1,000 pages, but declined to give more specifics.
Nevertheless, Democrats are accusing Barr of slow-walking the report’s release, noting that he was able to summarize Mueller’s findings and make a judgement on obstruction within two days of receiving the document.
Any redactions made to the report, Democrats say, could prevent the public from finding out exactly what Mueller determined during the course of his 22-month investigation.
“I’m a professor, I don’t accept the CliffsNotes version of Macbeth,” said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition – Dems look for traction following Barr-Mueller findings Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar Ex-Georgia candidate calls for probe, says more than a hundred thousand votes went ‘missing’ MORE (D-Md.). “I want to read Macbeth itself in all of its gory detail.”
Mike Lillis contributed.