Dems escalate Mueller demands with subpoena

Democrats say it is up to Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrAnticipation builds for final Supreme Court rulings Anticipation builds for final Supreme Court rulings Trump's Justice Department should change its tune on antitrust policy MORE whether they move forward with a subpoena demanding the full release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE’s report. 

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted along party lines to authorize Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerFrom abortion to obstruction, politicians' hypocrisy is showing Watergate figure John Dean earns laughter for responses to GOP lawmakers The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by MAPRx - Nadler gets breakthrough deal with DOJ on Mueller docs MORE (D-N.Y.) to issue the order at a time of his choosing.

Barr has said he will provide more information to Congress about Mueller’s report by mid-April or sooner, but congressional Democrats are looking to increase the pressure on him. Almost two weeks have passed since Mueller submitted his report to Barr, and it’s been more than 10 days since the attorney general gave lawmakers a four-page summary of the conclusions in a report that’s said to be nearly 400 pages.

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Democrats are desperate to get the report, particularly after the White House touted Barr’s principal findings of the 22-month probe as an exoneration of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE.

Mueller’s investigation ended with no new indictments, and Barr’s four-page letter said the special counsel concluded there was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. Barr also decided there was not enough evidence to support charging Trump with obstruction of justice, even after Mueller’s report did not exonerate the president on that issue.

Barr’s role in the obstruction decision has become a flashpoint for Democrats, fueling their demands that Congress see the Mueller report, complete with grand jury material and its underlying evidence.

“The Constitution charges Congress with holding the president accountable for alleged official misconduct,” Nadler said at the outset of a meeting Wednesday before lawmakers approved the subpoena. “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.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Democrats appeared uncertain as to whether or when Nadler would issue the subpoena. The House begins a two-week recess Wednesday.

While Democrats are largely deferring to Nadler on the decision, some suggested he may wait until after Barr submits a version of the report to Congress. House Democrats had set an April 2 deadline for Barr to provide them with Mueller’s full report.

“I don’t think it’s imminent. We authorized it so that he’s able to act if necessary. The question is not just timing, but also scope,” said Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenCriticism punctuates Nadler's leadership of Trump probe Criticism punctuates Nadler's leadership of Trump probe Mueller remarks put renewed focus on election security bills MORE (D-Calif.). “I don’t think you issue a subpoena because of a difference of opinion of seven days. But, if he doesn’t give us the whole report, which we are entitled to, that would be a different issue.”

Barr told Congress last week he was on track to release a version of the report to Congress and the public, with some restrictions, by mid-April.

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He said the public version would not include sensitive national security information that could compromise sources and methods, grand jury material, information that could impact ongoing investigations and “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

Those caveats did not sit well with Democrats, who are pushing for the full report. Nadler and others on Wednesday cited the investigations into former presidents Clinton and Nixon as precedent for releasing grand jury material, which by law is generally restricted from the public.

“We’d rather get it voluntarily. If we can’t get it voluntarily, we’ll do what we need to do to get it,” Lofgren said.

Some Democrats expressed greater urgency, signaling there could be additional pressure on Nadler to issue the subpoena before the upcoming recess or before Barr submits documents to Congress.

“There is growing impatience in the committee in getting the subpoena issued and getting the report,” Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineOvernight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale Pelosi: Congress will block Trump's arms sales to Saudi Arabia MORE (D-R.I.) said. “We are hearing from our constituents overwhelmingly.”

But for now, the ball is in Barr’s court. Nadler has remained tight-lipped about the timing, telling reporters following Wednesday’s vote that he plans to work with Barr for a “short period of time” before issuing a subpoena. He did not provide further details about a timeline. 

Republicans, meanwhile, have accused Democrats of engaging in political theater and trying to undermine Trump and his administration after Mueller’s core findings left them disappointed. They’ve also accused Nadler of asking Barr to break the law by demanding the release of grand jury material, which would require a court order. 

Nadler said he has asked Barr to seek court approval to release the grand jury information.

“We have a preemptive chairman who has gone out with preemptive subpoenas today on a report that has already been promised to him,” Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsTensions between Democrats, Justice cool for a day Tensions between Democrats, Justice cool for a day Nadler reaches deal with Justice on Mueller documents on eve of contempt vote MORE (Ga.), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told reporters after the hearing. “This is nothing but political theater.”

In a Fox News interview, Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger Hillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger House Intel to take first major deep dive into threat of 'deepfakes' MORE (R-Texas) cast the tactics as a Democratic strategy to prevent the president from being reelected.

Trump, who previously said he is in favor of the report’s release, on Tuesday characterized the subpoena effort as a “waste of time” and suggested Democrats were playing “politics at a very low level.”

The regulations governing Mueller’s appointment as special counsel required him to submit a confidential report to the attorney general at the conclusion of his probe, which he did on March 22. The rules give Barr discretion over what, if anything, to release publicly or to Congress about the investigation.

Barr has committed to releasing as much as he can about the Mueller probe in the interest of transparency but has remained firm in keeping certain portions restricted.

Democrats questioned Barr’s ability to be a neutral observer after he submitted his principal findings of the Mueller report to Congress, with some pointing back to a memo he sent to the Justice Department and White House in June criticizing Mueller’s obstruction inquiry.

“We know Mr. Barr engaged in behavior which fortifies our concern about his impartiality in this process and it makes the urgency for him to release it even more,” Cicilline said.

The fight over Mueller’s report is likely to play out dramatically over the coming weeks if Democrats are unsatisfied with what Barr provides to Congress.

Wednesday’s resolution also authorized Nadler to subpoena testimony in connection with Mueller’s report and its underlying evidence. Barr has committed to testifying before the House and Senate Judiciary panels in early May; Democrats have signaled they want to hear from him sooner.

And while Democrats are facing growing GOP accusations of overreach, they say those criticisms are unfounded.

“This is a part of the oversight the American people expect the Congress to give,” said Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita Demings2020 Democrats mark three years since Pulse nightclub shooting 2020 Democrats mark three years since Pulse nightclub shooting Florida lawmakers propose making Pulse nightclub a national memorial MORE (D-Fla.). “If that makes some people nervous, particularly my Republican colleagues on the other side of the aisle, I have no control over that.”