The House Judiciary Committee authorized Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Wednesday to subpoena the full Mueller report and its underlying evidence, directly confronting Attorney General William Barr, who has indicated he intends to withhold some information from Congress.
The resolution passed by a party-line 24-17 vote in the committee, which also authorized Nadler to subpoena five Trump officials who no longer serve in the White House: former White House counsel Don McGahn; former chief political strategist Steve Bannon; former White House communications director Hope Hicks; former chief of staff Reince Priebus; and former White House lawyer Ann Donaldson.
Nadler indicated that he will not immediately issue the subpoenas surrounding special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s 22-month investigation into Russian election interference in the 2016 election, but rather attempt to use them as leverage over Barr and others to voluntarily provide the requested report and testify about it.
“I will give (Barr) time to change his mind” about releasing a redacted version of the Mueller report, Nadler said at the committee meeting Wednesday. “But if we cannot reach an accommodation, then we will have no choice but to issue subpoenas for these materials,” the New York Democrat said.
The attorney general indicated in a four-page letter in March that he would withhold certain information, including material related to grand juries and, “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
Barr is working with Mueller to scrub the nearly 400-page report of any information that could compromise intelligence sources and methods, and of material that could affect other ongoing investigations.
Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the judiciary panel, accused Nadler of trying to coerce Barr into “(breaking) the law” by demanding an un-redacted form of the Mueller report with grand jury information.
Barr is “expressly forbidden from providing grand jury material outside of the department, with very limited and narrow exceptions. Congress is not one of those exceptions, and the chairman knows it,” Collins said.
But Nadler has asked Barr to seek a court order to release the grand jury information that is protected by Rule 6(E) of the federal criminal procedure, as previous special and independent counsels investigating the Watergate and Whitewater land deal affairs of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton did of their own volition.
If Barr and the Justice Department don’t seek such a court order, Nadler has indicated he will issue the subpoena for the full Mueller report.
“Then it should be up to a judge — not the president or his political appointee — to decide whether or not it is appropriate for the committee to review the complete record,” Nadler said Wednesday.
Democrats are pressing for the full report, including grand jury information and information about unindicted persons — including, among others, President Donald Trump; his adult children Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric; and his son-in-law Jared Kushner — because even if such people did not commit crimes, the report could reveal troubling misconduct.
“One day, one way or another, the country will move on from President Trump. We must make it harder for future presidents to behave this way. We need a full accounting of the president’s actions to do that work,” Nadler said.
Trump, whom Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided not to charge for obstructing the special counsel’s investigation, initially said it “wouldn’t bother me at all” if the full report were released.
The president has claimed “total exoneration” — even though Mueller specifically included a line in his report saying it does not exonerate him, per one of Barr’s letters to Congress in March.
But Trump indicated a little more unease this week about the full report being released.
“There is no amount of testimony or document production that can satisfy Jerry Nadler or Shifty Adam Schiff,” he tweeted Tuesday, referring to the House Intelligence Committee chairman from California. “It is now time to focus exclusively on properly running our great Country!”
The subpoena authorization Wednesday does not immediately start a legal showdown between the legislative and executive branches.
House Democrats don’t have a mechanism to quickly enforce executive branch compliance with a congressional subpoena — and certainly not by the time Barr releases his redacted version of the report by his intended goal of mid-April.
But with subpoenas in his quiver, Nadler will hope to get compliance from the administration and avoid going to court for the full Mueller report and its underlying documents.
“This committee has a job to do,” Nadler said Wednesday. “The Constitution charges Congress with holding the president accountable for alleged official misconduct. That job requires us to evaluate the evidence for ourselves — not the attorney general’s summary, not a substantially redacted synopsis, but the full report and the underlying evidence.”
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