Attorney General William Barr will not ask a federal court in Washington, D.C., to give Congress material from special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury, he told a House Appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have asked Barr to petition the court for permission to release the grand jury information, which is secret under Federal Rule 6(e), to Congress. The Justice Department took similar steps after independent counsel investigations into President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton.
The move sets up a potential fight between Barr and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which voted last week to authorize subpoenas for the full report and its underlying evidence.
“I don’t intend, at this stage, to send the full unredacted report to the committee,” Barr told Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) at Tuesday’s hearing on the Justice Department’s budget request for fiscal year 2020.
Barr will release the nearly 400-page report to Congress and the public “within the week,” he told the committee Tuesday. It will include color-coded redactions, with explanatory notes, for material related to the grand jury, investigators’ sources and methods, ongoing investigations, and information on “peripheral players” in the probe.
Mueller and his team are assisting with those redactions, Barr said.
Barr’s decision not to release the grand jury material will set the stage for a back-and-forth between Congress and the Justice Department that could well wind up in court. But he also suggested he would be open to negotiating with Congress for access to more of the report once the redacted version is made public.
“As I said, I’m glad to talk to Chairman Nadler and Chairman Graham as to whether they feel they need more information and see if there’s a way we could accommodate that,” Barr said.
The special counsel’s office spent two years probing whether any members of the Trump campaign participated in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of President Donald Trump. Mueller also investigated whether Trump committed obstruction of justice, including when he fired former FBI Director James Comey over the Russia probe.
Mueller sent his final report to Barr on March 22. Two days later, the attorney general released a four-page summary of its conclusions. It said Mueller had cleared the Trump campaign of collusion but had left a decision on whether to charge the president with obstruction up to Barr. After consulting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Barr wrote that “the evidence… is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
That raised concerns among some Democrats who saw Barr’s nomination as an attempt by Trump to place a loyalist at the top of the Justice Department to shield himself from the Mueller probe.
Trump fired his previous attorney general, Jeff Sessions, over his decision to recuse himself from overseeing Mueller’s office. Months earlier, as a private citizen, Barr sent a memo to the Justice Department criticizing the special counsel’s investigation of Trump for obstruction of justice.
Barr denied at his confirmation hearing in January that the memo played a part in him getting the job.
Barr testified Tuesday that the Justice Department did not consult the White House before releasing that summary of the report’s conclusions, but he avoided answering when House Appropriations chair Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) asked if the White House has seen the full report.
“I’ve said what I’m going to say about the report today,” Barr responded.
“I was willing to discuss the historic information of how the report came to me and my decision on Sunday,” he added. “But I’ve already laid out the process that is going forward to release these reports hopefully within a week. I’m not going to say anything more about it until the report is out and everyone has a chance to look at it.”