House Democrats are plotting ways to ensure that special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report becomes public and that Justice Department officials don’t interfere with its contents.
Democratic committee leaders are already anticipating resistance from the Trump administration as they seek to build a public case — through investigations and other means — that Trump’s behavior is unethical and, potentially, criminal.
Story Continued Below
“If the report is not released, we will certainly subpoena for it,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO. “The problem with a subpoena is, they could contest it in court for a while. But the Judiciary Committee would certainly issue a subpoena.”
Democrats’ desire to see the Mueller report released publicly has buy-in from some Republicans, too. On Monday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced a bill requiring the disclosure of two special counsel reports: one to Congress, and one to the public. And on Tuesday, the top three House Republican leaders all said they support the public release of Mueller’s findings.
Lawmakers began focusing on the issue after William Barr, President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee, would not pledge during his confirmation hearings earlier this month to publicly release Mueller’s final report. And for the first time since re-taking the majority, House Democrats discussed the special counsel’s investigation in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, gave a presentation to his colleagues that focused on efforts to ensure that Mueller’s final report is made public, according to a dozen lawmakers who attended the meeting.
“The real issue that we’re trying to address is to make sure that Mueller’s investigation is presented to the public, and that there aren’t watered down versions by the attorney general provided to Congress, and limitations on what can be presented to the public — whether it’s the Cliffnotes version or other ways he might try to cut back what is revealed in that investigation,” Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), a freshman lawmaker who was appointed to the powerful House Oversight Committee, said in an interview.
But there wasn’t a consensus on what action should be taken — if any — to ensure that the report is released in full and without political interference. Existing Justice Department regulations give the attorney general some leeway to determine what can or cannot be released, and the president could assert executive privilege to block an official release to both Congress and the public. During his confirmation hearings, Barr noted the DOJ guidelines that might apply to Mueller’s findings.
Schiff has said the entire report should be released publicly with proper redactions of classified information.
“We will have to use whatever compulsion is necessary if they resist making it public. Whether that would be a subpoena or that would be legislation, I don’t know. A subpoena may be sufficient to do the job, but it may end up one of those efforts to stonewall that leads to litigation,” Schiff told POLITICO.
Rouda, who ran a campaign largely focused on his opposition to Russia’s global aggression, said Democrats were “trying to investigate and understand” the issue further in order to determine a course of action.
“The statute is a little bit quiet in this area,” Rouda added. “So we’re trying to understand a little bit better how we can make sure that the truth is revealed to the public at large. And that’s a process we’re going to work through.”
Democratic lawmakers’ concerns were compounded on Monday after acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker suggested that the Mueller investigation was “close to being completed” — a claim Democrats dismissed. But they were encouraged on Monday when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would follow up with Barr, the attorney general nominee, about presidential claims of executive privilege and whether he intends to release certain information tied to the Mueller report.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn’t weigh in on Grassley’s bill, but noted potential DOJ restrictions on a public disclosure.
“You have the additional complication that the next attorney general testified as to what the department regulations are. Obviously I would like for as much as possible of the Mueller report to be open,” McConnell said. “I don’t know enough about Justice Department regulations to know what part of that might make sense not to be disclosed, but let me just say I think it ought to be as fully open and transparent, whatever the recommendation is, as possible.”
Sarah Ferris and Marianne LeVine contributed reporting.