Showdown looms over Mueller report

A showdown over the public release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report appeared inevitable Saturday as Democrats plotted their strategy and GOP allies of President Trump declared victory over the lack of new indictments.

Attorney General William Barr, the figure now at the center of the fight over Mueller’s findings, has said he could tell lawmakers of the main conclusions from the sprawling Russia probe as soon as this weekend, with lawmakers expecting additional briefings in the coming days.

But releasing general findings even a day after the confidential report was submitted is unlikely to quell Democratic calls for a public release. House Democrats are set to discuss their strategy on the report Saturday afternoon as the chairmen of several committees plot their next steps.{mosads}

News that Mueller completed his investigation and submitted his report to the Justice Department, which arrived on a stormy afternoon in Washington, capped nearly two years of intense speculation about whether the special counsel would turn over evidence that Trump’s campaign conspired with Moscow to interfere in the 2016 election.

House Democrats have dangled the possibility of subpoenaing the contents of Mueller’s closing documentation from the Justice Department and have floated demanding Mueller’s own public testimony if they are unsatisfied with the information Barr provides to Congress or the public.

Such a move has the potential to precipitate a brutal legal battle between Congress and the executive branch that could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Mueller’s findings and the contours of his report remain shrouded in mystery, causing tensions to run high in the nation’s capital.

For his part, Trump himself has not weighed in publicly on Mueller’s report being filed. The president had left Washington earlier Friday and is traveling in Florida this weekend for a visit to his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Barr notified the House and Senate Judiciary committees late Friday afternoon that he was in receipt of Mueller’s report and would soon brief lawmakers on the “principal conclusions” reached by the special counsel in the course of his 22-month probe. Those details could come as soon as Saturday and are expected to be released publicly.

The attorney general said he is “committed to as much transparency as possible” but tiptoed around the prospect of releasing Mueller’s entire report, something Democrats have demanded for weeks. Instead, Barr said he would consult with Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on what other information from the special counsel’s final documentation can be released to Congress and the public.

Democrats have signaled strongly that they will not be satisfied if Barr merely summarizes Mueller’s findings in his own way. They want to see Mueller’s full report as well as the underlying evidence, signaling they will use their newfound oversight powers in the House majority to compel it.

{mossecondads}“We expect the Attorney General to release [the report] without delay given the profound public interest in the full disclosure of information learned by the Special Counsel,” six Democratic House committee chairmen and chairwomen said in a joint statement Friday evening.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who is spearheading his panel’s own sprawling inquiry into Russian interference and other matters, has signaled Democrats would subpoena the report or Mueller’s testimony if the Justice Department does not meet their demands.

“We will have to subpoena the evidence. We will have to subpoena Mueller or others to come before the Congress and answer questions because if there is evidence of a compromise — whether it arises to the level of criminal conduct or not — it needs to be exposed,” Schiff said Friday on CNN.

Barr is not bound by Justice Department regulations to release any of Mueller’s report, which is required to be delivered confidentially to the attorney general. Barr is only required to submit his own report to Congress when Mueller is finished that explains any instances in which he blocked Mueller from taking certain prosecutorial steps, of which Barr said Friday there were none.

The special counsel regulations allow for Barr to make public his reports to Congress on the investigation if he determines doing so is in the public interest.

While he has said he will release as much information about the investigation as possible, Barr has refrained from committing to releasing the full report, maintaining during his Senate confirmation hearings in January that he would follow the regulations and the law.

Experts say there are legitimate national security and legal reasons to keep certain information in Mueller’s report secret, namely classified information and grand jury material. Those details, they say, would need to be redacted from any document that is released to the public.

Still, Democrats say that the intense public interest surrounding the investigation demands the immediate and full release of Mueller’s findings, especially if the Justice Department has any information that Trump engaged in nefarious or potentially criminal conduct.

“Anything less than full transparency would raise serious questions about whether the Department of Justice policy is being used as a pretext for a cover-up of misconduct,” the six Democratic chairmen and chairwomen, including Schiff and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), said in their statement late Friday.

It remains unclear whether Mueller’s report implicates Trump in any misconduct. Mueller concluded his investigation without recommending further indictments, a Justice Department official said late Friday, and department guidelines say a sitting president cannot be indicted.

And while Mueller has charged more than two dozen Russians in plots linked to the Kremlin’s interference campaign, none of the charges leveled against Trump associates have alleged a conspiracy between Americans and the Russians to meddle in the vote. Mueller also explored whether Trump obstructed justice.

The Justice Department typically does not reveal information about Americans it is not charging with crimes — a practice that Rosenstein reiterated in recent public remarks.

“If we aren’t prepared to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt in court, then we have no business making allegations against American citizens,” the deputy attorney general, who is expected to soon leave his post, said at an event in Washington in late February.

There is an appetite among some Republicans to see Mueller’s report released as well, but GOP lawmakers are unlikely to unite behind attempts by Democrats to subpoena its contents.

Earlier this month, the House voted unanimously to pass a nonbinding resolution calling on the Justice Department to release Mueller’s report to Congress as well as publicly “except to the extent the public disclosure of any portion thereof is expressly prohibited by law.”

The executive branch could choose to fight an attempt by House Democrats to subpoena for Mueller’s report in federal court, setting the stage for a conflict that would need to be resolved by the judicial branch and potentially the Supreme Court — if the case advanced that high.

The White House could look to assert executive privilege to keep certain details in Mueller’s report secret, though it’s unclear whether or when Barr will share the report with the president or his advisers.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that Trump, already in Palm Beach, Fla., had not been briefed on the report and that  “the next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course.”

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani told The Hill late Friday that his legal team had not asked for a preview of the report, despite an earlier article from The Associated Press suggesting the opposite.

“We have not made any request, we have not made any demand,” Giuliani said.

“They did it properly, so there is no reason to ask [for] anything other than that,” he added.

Tags Adam Schiff Donald Trump Jerrold Nadler Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein

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