Democrats face balancing act with Mueller report demands

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 (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network 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 BarrGiuliani says he won't comply with subpoenas from Democrats Barr bemoans 'moral upheaval' that has brought 'suffering and misery' Trump threatens to sue Schiff and Pelosi 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.

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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 CummingsCracks emerge in White House strategy as witness testifies Overnight Defense: Pentagon insists US hasn't abandoned Kurds | Trump expands sanctions authority against Turkey | Ex-Ukraine ambassador says Trump pushed for her ouster On The Money: Trump announces limited trade deal with China | Appeals court rules against Trump over financial records | Trump expands authority to sanction Turkey 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 NadlerBarr to speak at Notre Dame law school on Friday The 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment Ignore the hype — this is not an impeachment inquiry 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 SchiffDemocrats see John Bolton as potential star witness Top State Department official arrives for testimony in impeachment probe The Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Turkey controversy 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 TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? 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.

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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 RosensteinTrump attacks Sessions: A 'total disaster' and 'an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama' Mueller rejoins DC law firm Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it 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 CheneyThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Hunter Biden speaks out amid Ukraine controversy Fury over Trump Syria decision grows George Conway hits Republicans for not saying Trump's name while criticizing policy 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 KrishnamoorthiTrump's cruelty toward immigrants weakens rather than strengthens America Overnight Health Care — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — Federal judge blocks Trump from detaining migrant children indefinitely | Health officials tie vaping-related illnesses to 'Dank Vapes' brand | Trump to deliver health care speech in Florida Overnight Health Care — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — More than 800 cases of vaping illnesses reported to CDC | House panel asks e-cigarette companies to stop advertising | Senate Dems to force vote on Trump health care rule 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 ConnollyState Dept. official told to 'lay low' after voicing concerns about Giuliani: Dem lawmaker Democrats see John Bolton as potential star witness Top State official warned of Trump pressure campaign against Ukraine: report MORE (D-Va.).

Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesHouse chairman: Pompeo not complying with impeachment inquiry Sunday shows - Second whistleblower grabs spotlight Top House Democrat: 'We have Trump appointees who are clearly unnerved by the lawlessness of this president' 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 RaskinEx-Trump aide on Russia testifies for 10 hours as part of impeachment inquiry Oversight panel to subpoena Trump officials next week over deportation deferrals Democrats plow ahead as Trump seeks to hobble impeachment effort MORE (D-Md.). “I want to read Macbeth itself in all of its gory detail.”

Mike Lillis contributed.