WASHINGTON – The battle over releasing the special counsel’s report intensified Wednesday as Democrats in Congress insisted Attorney General William Barr must quickly release its full findings. Barr said he’ll release at least a partial version in April.
Skepticism mounted over Barr’s four-page synopsis, which was released Sunday and found no evidence President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election. The longer it takes to release the full findings from special counsel Robert Mueller, the more Democrats, in particular, warn they will question the legitimacy of Barr’s actions.
The push came as the House moved ahead with its own oversight of the Trump administration, including an Intelligence Committee hearing scheduled Thursday on Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he was “disappointed” Barr would take weeks, not days, to release the report.
“The president has now an opportunity for weeks, it sounds like, to do these victory laps,” said Cummings, noting that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, is among those headed to jail as a result of the probe. “Cohen goes to jail, the president runs a victory lap.”
The attorney general told the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that he’s combing through Mueller’s report and removing classified, grand jury and other information in hopes of releasing it to Congress.
Graham told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he had dinner the previous evening with Barr, who said he is willing to testify before the committee after he sends Congress the report.
Trump also has said he’s fine with releasing the findings. “The president said, ‘Just let it go,’ and that’s what’s going to happen,” Graham said.
What’s clear, though, is that Barr will miss the Tuesday deadline set by six House committee chairmen to see the full confidential report and its underlying documents. They have suggested they may eventually need to subpoena it.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said he was “very concerned” Barr would not provide the material by the time set.
Nadler upped the oversight Wednesday by placing a call to Bar. Over 10 minutes, the chairman asked whether Barr would accede to Congress’ demand for the full report by April 2. Barr said no, according to Nadler.
Nadler asked if Barr would release a report to Congress without redactions. “He wouldn’t commit to that,” the congressman said. He also told reporters that Mueller’s report was “very substantial” and fewer than 1,000 pages.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has urged caution so as not to “throw innocent people who’ve not been charged under the bus,” is blocking legislation to force the disclosure of the Mueller report.
Other Republicans, however, insisted on Congress being able to review it. “I want to see it all,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “I think we should see the entire report.”
The top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, was confident a full picture of Mueller’s report would emerge.
“People are going to be very surprised,” Collins said. “Barr is going to put out a lot of stuff.”
Beyond Mueller’s findings, House Democrats are pursuing multiple investigations into the president’s political, business and personal dealings, as they press on with their oversight agenda. Part of their work is to determine if anyone sought leverage over Trump, his family or associates.
Those probes, including a push to release his tax returns, are not fully dependent on whether the report backs up Barr’s conclusion. By Barr’s account, Mueller made no finding on whether the president obstructed justice. Though Barr cleared Mueller of obstruction, the question is now in Congress’ hands.
The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the Mueller report will “guide us in terms of what has been fully investigated by the special counsel, what has gone uninvestigated.”
Schiff said, “It’s very difficult to make those decisions in the absence of really knowing what’s in that report.”
The panel expects to “tailor” its investigation to focus beyond Mueller, said one member of the panel, Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn.
Releasing the report has become the immediate focus on Capitol Hill amid concerns from Democrats that what has been made public so far is tilted positively toward Trump.
Questions about Barr are amplified by his unusual role as a lawyer who advocated an expansive view of executive power, suggesting in an unsolicited letter to the administration before being hired that the president cannot be found to have obstructed a Justice Department probe.
Schiff has said Barr was all but auditioning for the job – a sentiment shared by other Democrats in Congress.
Mueller’s role as a special counsel is different from the independent counsels that investigated earlier administrations, including Kenneth Starr’s probe against President Bill Clinton. The law authorizing the independent counsel was allowed to lapse after that and Mueller, as a special counsel, conducted his work under the Justice Department.
“I would hope the attorney general would not be acting as a political operative for the president,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the Judiciary Committee.
“The Department of Justice should not be involved in a cover-up of what’s actually in the report,” he said. “It’s great for a banana republic, it’s not great for a constitutional democracy.”
Barr wants to make sure nothing is released that could compromise national security or intelligence sources and methods, Graham said. He said Barr also told him he wants to check with prosecutors who have cases associated with Mueller’s Russia investigation. Mueller had referred cases to other federal courts as part of his probe.
Republicans have said it’s time for Congress to move on from the Russia probe, but Democrats indicated they are not worried about overreaching as they push ahead with both their oversight agenda and other legislative priorities.
“I haven’t read the Mueller report, but if it clears President Trump, I see that as nothing but a relief for our country,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa.
“It’s the dream of the Founding Fathers that we have a separation of powers,” he said. “Checks and balances.”
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