House Democrats are prepping a swift response to Attorney General William Barr’s plans to release a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report within the next week, after Barr’s first public comments Tuesday did little to quell the Democratic anger over Barr’s rollout of the special counsel probe.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler is preparing to “very quickly” subpoena the Justice Department and go to court seeking to obtain grand jury information, while House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff says he’s made a formal request to obtain the counterintelligence information from Mueller’s investigation to learn whether the President is “compromised” in any way.
“I think that’s a betrayal to what he promised during his confirmation,” Schiff told CNN, referring to Barr’s refusal so far to not provide Congress with the full report and underlying evidence. “But it’s what he was hired to do, which is to protect the President. The President wanted his own Roy Cohn and apparently he got one. But it is deeply concerning.”
The multi-pronged approach is the clearest sign yet that Barr’s release of a redacted report will not stop the brewing showdown between House Democrats and the Trump administration over the 22-month special counsel investigation. The fight is almost assuredly going to wind up in court as Democrats seek to pry material from the Mueller investigation out of the Justice Department beyond what Barr says he will provide.
Barr laid down his marker at a Tuesday budget hearing, his first appearance before Congress since Mueller’s investigation wrapped last month. Barr said he was working to make as much information public as possible and that he would work with Nadler if he sought additional material.
But he drew the line at providing the full report or grand jury material.
“I don’t intend at this stage to send the full, unredacted report to the committee,” Barr told a House Appropriations subcommittee. “Until someone shows me a provision” permitting the release of grand jury material, Barr added, “Congress doesn’t get” that material.
In response, Nadler said he expected to issue the subpoena, which the committee authorized last week for the report and underlying materials, once Barr releases the report.
“I assume we will get the redacted report within a week. When we do so, if we don’t get everything, we will issue the subpoena and go to court,” the New York Democrat said, adding that the subpoena was likely to come “very quickly.”
But that’s not the only effort underway in Congress to obtain the information from the Mueller report. Schiff said Tuesday that he had made a formal request for his committee to obtain the counterintelligence materials from Mueller’s investigation.
“We have made a formal request for all of the information and findings in the counterintelligence investigation, as they’re required to provide us under the National Security Act of 1947,” the California Democrat said. “Our priority at the moment has been to make sure this report is made public, and make as much of the report public as possible, but we will be following through to make sure we get the counterintelligence information that they’re obligated to provide.”
A committee aide said the request was made in the last few weeks. The request to the Justice Department, Schiff said, would fall under a grand jury exemption for material related to counterintelligence matters, and Schiff didn’t rule out using a subpoena if necessary.
“We have an independent basis to want the counterintelligence information, after all of this began as a counterintelligence investigation, to determine, to find out whether the President or people in his campaign had been compromised in any way by a foreign power,” Schiff said. “That means giving us classified information, that means giving us grand jury information.”
Schiff’s comments suggesting that President or his team could be compromised have been criticized by Republicans in the wake of Mueller’s investigation wrapping. The Republicans on the Intelligence Committee cited Barr’s summary stating that Mueller’s probe did not establish a criminal conspiracy to jointly call for Schiff’s resignation as chairman last month.
Still, at Tuesday’s hearing Barr appeared more open to the notion of providing classified material to Congress.
“I could envision a situation where under appropriate safeguards, that information would be shared,” Barr said.
Barr had a very different reaction about grand jury material, arguing there was nothing in the special counsel regulations that states it should be provided to Congress. And in a dig at Nadler, Barr also noted in his testimony that the current special counsel regulations, which make the report confidential, were written after the Ken Starr investigating into President Bill Clinton.
“Many of the people who are right now calling for the release of this report were basically castigating Ken Starr and others for releasing the Starr report,” Barr said, echoing President Donald Trump’s criticism of Nadler.
Democrats had their own criticisms of Barr’s comments in Tuesday’s hearing, particularly his decision not to respond to questions on whether the White House had been briefed on the Mueller report.
“It was clear to me that the attorney general felt that he was an appointee of the President of the United States of America, and it’s very hard for me to believe that he didn’t make any changes or additions based on any suggestions that might have come from the White House,” said House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat.
Asked why he was waiting for Barr to release his report before issuing a subpoena – given the attorney general’s comments about the unredacted report – Nadler said his committee wanted to show the courts “we’re making every effort to accommodate” the Justice Department.
Republicans have criticized Democrats’ efforts to obtain additional materials from the Mueller report, accusing them of an unwillingness to accept the results of Mueller’s investigation and arguing there’s no precedent for Nadler to seek grand jury material unless he launches impeachment proceedings.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday that Congress shouldn’t be given the unredacted Mueller report because it would leak.
“Do you think they would keep a secret? No. We would harm people,” the California Republican said Tuesday. “I’m sure they’ll keep a secret – the problem is the people they tell wouldn’t be able to keep a secret.”
Nadler has argued that Congress is entitled to grand jury information, citing previous cases that include the Clinton and Watergate investigations. Asked whether those were different because they were part of formal impeachment proceedings, Nadler said the court has also allowed material to be provided in cases that are “preparatory to a judicial proceeding.”
“An impeachment inquiry is a judicial proceeding, or has been considered in the past,” Nadler said. “And certainly an inquiry which may help you determine whether or not to initiate an impeachment is preparatory to that.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.