Criticism punctuates Nadler's leadership of Trump probe

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerWant the truth? Put your money on Bill Barr, not Jerry Nadler From abortion to obstruction, politicians' hypocrisy is showing Watergate figure John Dean earns laughter for responses to GOP lawmakers MORE is pressing forward Monday with the first of several hearings into the Mueller report. But that’s done little to appease a small faction of fellow Democrats frustrated with his overall strategy dealing with a recalcitrant Trump administration.    

Everyone concedes Nadler (D-N.Y.) is in an almost-impossible spot as he battles President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE on multiple fronts, coordinates with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi slated to deliver remarks during panel hearing on poverty The DNC's climate problems run deep Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment MORE’s (D-Calif.) leadership team and contends with the growing chorus of Democrats on his own panel demanding impeachment.

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But some Nadler critics, who call Judiciary the “tip of the spear” of Democrats’ probes into the administration, say he’s failed to lay out a broad strategy and proven to be ineffective — at least so far — when it comes to landing a convincing blow against Trump.

Nadler’s response to the Mueller report has been sloppy, disorganized, too heavy handed in some instances, not tough enough in others, critics say. And some of his committee members say communication with them has not been great.

More than seven weeks have passed since the release of the 448-page redacted Mueller report. And despite a flurry of congressional subpoenas from his powerful panel, Nadler and Judiciary Democrats have had few clear victories they can point to.

Nadler has not yet secured the unredacted version of the Mueller report or any underlying evidence. He’s been negotiating for weeks to bring Mueller himself before his committee, but that hasn’t happened either.

And Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrTrump blasts Mueller, decries 'witch hunt' at 2020 launch Trump blasts Mueller, decries 'witch hunt' at 2020 launch Cummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question MORE and former White House counsel Don McGahn have ignored subpoenas from Nadler, even as Democrats prepare to take the rare step of holding them in contempt of Congress on Tuesday.

If “Republicans don't comply with something, we should be ready to ... slap them on the wrist right away. Not wait days and days and days and then figure out what we want to do,” said a Democratic lawmaker involved in investigations into the Trump administration.

While the lawmaker conceded that Nadler is probably running the next steps past leadership, the delays have given Trump officials the impression that they can ignore their requests and get away with it unscathed.

“I think that the Republicans are playing games and not complying with stuff. They just think, ‘Oh, well, let's see what they do. ... It can't be that bad,’” the lawmaker said.

Instead, some of these critics say Nadler, at the outset of the probes, should have spelled out more clearly specific consequences and penalties for Trump officials defying congressional subpoenas.

“You don't show up for the hearing? Well, this is the second step; this is what I’m going to do. You get three warnings, and then the next thing is the move to contempt. And then the next thing is, we're going to court,” the lawmaker said. “We should just have that lined up, so that it's just like, boom, boom, and so they know what's going to come.”

Former 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 sweeping report identified at least 10 episodes of possible obstruction of justice by Trump. But Nadler and his committee have failed to capitalize on spotlighting the misconduct or sway public opinion, said one senior Democratic source on Capitol Hill.

For example, the source said, Barr had agreed to testify before the Judiciary panel about the Mueller report in early May. But Nadler insisted that staff counsel be allowed to question the attorney general alongside lawmakers. That was a dealbreaker for Barr, leading to a five-week impasse.

“They have all hammer, no finesse,” said the Democratic source, who requested anonymity to speak freely about Nadler. The Mueller report has been a “big missed opportunity and any of the other chairmen would have played it differently. Yes, they are in an impossible situation, which is why they need more finesse than hammer.

“You can’t come at it head-on. You have to be creative on how to get the information.”

A third Democratic source put it this way: “You need a pirate” when taking on Trump. “Nadler is just a sailor.”

Through a spokesman, Nadler declined to comment for this story. But the 27-year House veteran has plenty of defenders on and off the committee who praise his stewardship of the Mueller report investigation and are sympathetic of the difficult predicament he finds himself in.

“No matter what you do, somebody is going to criticize you, so you just do what you think is right. You tell me who’s not criticized here. Every member of leadership is criticized, so that’s why you just forget the noise and I think that’s what Jerry is trying to do — stay focused on what the job is. Maybe it will all come together or won’t come together,” said Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksTop Finance Democrat offers bill to end tax breaks for private prison companies Top Finance Democrat offers bill to end tax breaks for private prison companies Criticism punctuates Nadler's leadership of Trump probe MORE, a fellow New York Democrat and Queens party boss who has served more than two decades in Congress with Nadler.

“I’m glad that Jerry is there. Jerry is not afraid, and Jerry is not shy.”

Others lauded the chairman for being deliberate in how he approaches subpoenas and other punitive actions against the Trump administration. They argue he is building a thorough record around the subpoenas so that when Democrats go to court, his actions seeking to obtain records and testimony will hold up.

“It’s not an easy task; I don’t think anybody else could have handled it better. No mere mortal could do this — it has to be Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerWant the truth? Put your money on Bill Barr, not Jerry Nadler From abortion to obstruction, politicians' hypocrisy is showing Watergate figure John Dean earns laughter for responses to GOP lawmakers MORE,” said Rep. Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayCriticism punctuates Nadler's leadership of Trump probe Criticism punctuates Nadler's leadership of Trump probe FBI database stokes worries over facial recognition tech MORE (D-Mo.).

In late 2017, Nadler beat out veteran Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenHouse votes against curtailing warrantless collection of Americans' data House votes against curtailing warrantless collection of Americans' data Criticism punctuates Nadler's leadership of Trump probe MORE (D-Calif.), a close ally of Pelosi’s, to become the top Democrat on Judiciary. In recent weeks, Pelosi has rebuffed Nadler’s repeated requests to move forward on an impeachment inquiry into Trump.

But last week, she also sought to tamp down any talk of daylight between her and Nadler, heaping praise on the “fabulous” chairman for steering other tricky issues through his Judiciary panel.

“Mind you, this list that I read to you: Dreamers, yesterday; For the People Act — some of that came out of the Judiciary Committee; Equality Act came out of Judiciary; Dream and Promise Act out of the Judiciary; [firearms] background checks came out of the Judiciary Committee. ... Violence Against Women Act — that came out of the Judiciary Committee,” said Pelosi, rattling off key bills that Democrats passed this year.

“This is a very active and busy committee and, among its legislating, investigating and litigating, they're doing a remarkable, remarkable job.”

The 71-year-old Nadler — who represents western Manhattan, Wall Street and parts of Brooklyn — has sought to work around the White House’s intransigence by scheduling a series of hearings examining the findings of the Mueller report. John Dean, the former Nixon White House counsel and star witness during the Watergate hearings, will be among those testifying at 2 p.m. Monday.

But Dean is no replacement for McGahn and Mueller, whom Democrats view as the two witnesses who can best shed light on whether Trump engaged in criminal activity and should be impeached.

Judiciary’s struggles also offer a stark contrast with other Democratic House probes that have scored some legal and political victories over Trump.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse votes against curtailing warrantless collection of Americans' data Overnight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) broke through some of the logjam when the Justice Department and Democrats struck a deal granting lawmakers on the panel access to a set of highly sensitive documents in the Mueller report.

While the deal didn’t satisfy all of the Intelligence Committee’s demands, it was a rare example of a compromise between a frustrated Democratic caucus and a presidential administration that has vowed to fight back against their oversight efforts.

House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersHillicon Valley: Facebook unveils new cryptocurrency | Waters wants company to halt plans | Democrats look to force votes on election security | Advertisers partner with tech giants on 'digital safety' | House GOP unveils cyber agenda On The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project On The Money: Trade chief defends Trump tariffs before skeptical Congress | Kudlow denies plan to demote Fed chief | Waters asks Facebook to halt cryptocurrency project MORE (D-Calif.) has also secured documents from Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo and other financial institutions that have provided business loans to the president.

The Justice Department has also reportedly offered to resume negotiations over access to the full Mueller report in order to put off the scheduled House vote to hold Barr in full contempt. While Nadler has said he is more than happy to come back to the negotiating table, he won’t table the House vote scheduled for Tuesday.

Barr, who released a redacted version of the report, has repeatedly maintained he will not turn over certain classified information like grand jury material — information Democrats say they are entitled to review.

Still, Nadler’s battle against an unbudging White House could’ve been handled more cleanly, his detractors say, starting with the launch of his investigation.

The chairman bungled the start of his sprawling inquiry into the Trump administration, the anonymous Democratic lawmaker said, by issuing 81 letters to members of the president’s inner circle, current and former officials, former Trump campaign and transition members, and other associates with ties to Trump.

That gave the impression that the Nadler probe was a fishing expedition, not “tailored, deliberate and methodical,” the lawmaker said.

One Judiciary member who serves under Nadler said the chairman’s handling of the Mueller report has seemed “disorganized” at times. Committee members have not been kept in the loop on things like Nadler’s negotiations to have Mueller testify, the lawmaker said. That’s led to lots of mixed messages coming from various Judiciary members, giving the appearance that Democrats on the panel — and in the full 235-member caucus — are extremely divided.

Meanwhile, Trump and GOP lawmakers are projecting a more effective, unified message: No obstruction. No collusion. Case closed.

“Nothing’s perfect, but then again what is,” the Judiciary Democrat lamented.