Washington, DC – US Representative Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Thursday he will issue a subpoena for the full, unredacted copy of the Mueller report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“Because Congress requires this material in order to perform our constitutionally-mandated responsibilities, I will subpoena for the full report and the underlying materials,” Nadler said in a statement on Thursday after US Attorney General William Barr released a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s report to the public.
In a letter sent to Congress on Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said that the Justice Department would make a less-redacted version of the report available to the “Gang of Eight”, the top-ranking House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, as well as the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Each politician can also have a staff member present.
Boyd said the report would be provided in a secure reading room at the Justice Department next week and in a secure room on the Capitol the week of April 29.
Nadler’s comments come as politicians, journalists and the public scour through nearly 450 pages of the redacted Mueller report.
A preliminary look at the report shows that Mueller “identified numerous links between individuals” with ties to Moscow and individuals associated with the Trump campaign, but “the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges” of collusion or coordination.
The report also revealed, however, a series of incidents in which US President Donald Trump took actions to impede the investigation.
According to the report, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn in June 2017 to tell the then-acting attorney general that Mueller had to be removed. McGahn refused.
The report also found there was “substantial evidence” that in 2017 Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey because of his “unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation”.
Mueller did not make a conclusion on whether Trump committed obstruction of justice, but he also did not exonerate him, according to the report.
Barr then concluded that Mueller’s team did not find enough proof to warrant bring charges against the president.
“Even in its incomplete form, the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct,” Nadler said a statement.
“The special counsel determined that he would not make a traditional charging decision in part because of the Department of Justice policy that a sitting President could not be indicted,” he added. “Rather, the special counsel’s office conducted an incredibly thorough investigation in order to preserve the evidence for future investigators. The special counsel made clear that he did not exonerate the president. The responsibility now falls to Congress to hold the President accountable for his actions.”
Nadler also said that he has formally requested that Mueller testify before the House judiciary panel by May 23. Barr is expected to testify before the committee on May 2.
Likely court battle
The expected subpoena sets up a likely court battle between Congress and the Trump administration, if Barr refuses to provide the House with the full document. So far, he has said he will not.
“The chances of his subpoena working are less than snowball’s chance in a very hot area beneath the surface of the earth. It’s going to have to be a court order,” said Gene Rossi, a former Justice Department prosecutor now in private practice in Washington, DC.
“The House Judiciary Committee, and the House and Senate intelligence committees, they should get the full unredacted report. They are in the business of getting classified information and they are in the business of protecting the disclosure of classified information,” Rossi told Al Jazeera. “There is absolutely no reason why those committees cannot get the full monty – the full report.”
The House would have to bring a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, DC, to enforce any subpoena. That could take months even under expedited procedures and would likely ultimately only be settled by the US Supreme Court even though the law is clear on Congress’s ability to obtain documents from the executive branch, Rossi said.
“Because it is so important … it could be an expedited briefing. And they could do this in two months. The judges don’t need a lot of research,” Rossi said.
“It’s not a hard question. Are the committees entitled to the full report if the committees promise not to disclose parts of the report? And if that’s the case, there is no reason not to give it to them. They have the oversight ability and the authority.”
‘Entitled to full report’
Democrats had warned Barr in an April 11 letter that partial release of the Mueller report would be inadequate.
“Congress is entitled to the full report – without redactions – as well as the underlying evidence,” Nadler and five House committee chairs had said in the letter.
“In every other instance where a federal grand jury was used to probe the alleged misconduct of a sitting president – namely in the Watergate and Starr investigations – the Department of Justice has worked with the relevant federal court to release the grand jury information to the House Judiciary Committee,” the Democrats’ letter said. “That has not happened in this instance.”
The Judiciary Committee had authorised the subpoena in a party-line vote on April 3 but Nadler withheld issuing the legal instrument to allow Barr time to work with members of Congress. Instead, Barr insisted he would only consult Congress after the redacted report was released.
The Justice Department staff had reviewed redactions of Mueller’s report in four areas; grand jury information, intelligence sources and methods, potential interference with ongoing prosecutions, and information that would implicate privacy or reputation interest of “peripheral third parties”.
Trump has sought to turn the narrative in Washington, DC, back on the investigators, claiming “Total EXONERATION” on Twitter and repeatedly suggesting the investigation was a “hoax” premised on false information fabricated by political opponents.
‘Undercuts law enforcement’
Barr caused an uproar when he picked up Trump’s claims and said in testimony before a Senate committee April 10 that he believed US agencies had been “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016.
Barr subsequently walked the comments back slightly, saying, “I just want to satisfy myself that there was no abuse of intelligence or law enforcement powers.”
But some Democrats in Congress have started to view Barr as little more than a political operator working on Trump’s behalf.
“Barr’s comments have just destroyed the scintilla of credibility he had left in terms of being a responsible person,” Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, told reporters last week. “When he talked about spying, he made himself into the most partisan attorney general I have seen in a while.”
Others have reserved judgment on whether Barr was doing his job correctly, even if his suggestion of “spying” by top FBI officials on the Trump campaign raised eyebrows.
“That kind of language undercuts law enforcement and the investigative teams that were clearly trying to do their job,” Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen told Al Jazeera. “There were things going on that led to the investigation that were legitimate.”
“I had a briefing with the Department of Homeland Security in the summer of 2016 because I was hearing that there was Russian interference in our elections,” Shaheen said. “Clearly, there was information about the [Russian] effort at the time the investigation started.”