The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to authorize subpoenas for special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any related misconduct by members of the Trump campaign. The vote passed along party lines, with Republicans opposing the subpoena despite some members previously saying they wanted the report to be made public.
The House voted 420 to 0 last month to release the full report, with four Republicans voting “present.” Not so Wednesday, when all 17 Republican committee members voted against authorizing a subpoena for the report.
The debate centered on whether Congress should see the report before Mueller and Attorney General William Barr redact classified information and grand jury material, which is usually kept secret under a federal law called Rule 6(e).
Wednesday’s vote authorized committee chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) to issue subpoenas. Nadler has said he will give Barr an opportunity to comply voluntarily before doing so.
Republicans repeatedly pointed to statements Nadler made in 1998 calling on Congress to redact 6(e) information from independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s report on whether President Bill Clinton lied under oath about an affair.
Starr and other independent counsels have asked courts to release grand jury information to Congress. Barr said in a letter to Congress last week that he will hand the report over to lawmakers later this month after removing classified information and grand jury material.
Nadler and other Democrats on House Judiciary are insisting on seeing the full, unredacted report along with the underlying evidence, as they did with the Starr investigation and the Watergate investigation into President Richard Nixon.
“I just want to point out that I was right 21 years ago, I’m right now, and it’s totally consistent, because we are urging now that the underlying 6(e) material be produced to the committee,” Nadler said Wednesday after sustained criticism from his Republican colleagues. “In 1998, that material had been produced to the Congress. And what we were discussing was its release to the public.”
“Before 6(e) material is released to the public, it has to be reviewed because some of it should not be leased to the public for privacy and other reasons,” Nadler continued. “But that determination was made then by Congress, and it should be made now by Congress.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) pilloried Nadler’s “brilliant mental acumen” moments after the chairman spoke, accusing the committee chair of hypocrisy for saying he was right to call for the redaction of 6(e) material in the public version of the Starr report in 1998 while also demanding that Barr hand over 6(e) material to Congress now.
“Just a work of beauty in that argument,” Gohmert said.
The party-line vote marked a departure for Republicans, who had spent weeks calling for the release of Mueller’s full report. President Donald Trump himself initially led the charge for transparency, saying, “Let it come out. Let people see it — that’s up to the attorney general.” The GOP continues to tout the report as a full exoneration of the president that, they hope, will lift the cloud of controversy that has hung over the party and stalled their agenda for the past two years.
In a separate letter to Congress after Mueller finished his report last month, Barr said the investigation found no evidence of collusion between Russia’s election interference effort and members of the Trump campaign. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also decided not to charge Trump with attempting to obstruct the Russia investigation after Mueller failed to come to a determination on the matter of obstruction.
Far from bringing the controversy to a close, Barr’s letter fanned partisan flames on Capitol Hill, with Democrats hoping to find the devil in the details of the full report and Republicans accusing their counterparts of partisan gamesmanship. Republicans alleged that partisan officials in the Justice Department started the Mueller probe just to hurt Trump.
“It is clear that high-ranking officials entrusted with the law enforcement powers of our country abused this trust to influence the 2016 presidential election and ultimately to undermine its outcome,” Rep. Tim McClintock (R-CA) said Wednesday, citing inaccurate evidence about the origins of the Russia investigation to bolster his claims.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), one of the most outspoken Republicans on the committee, accused Democrats of trying to hurt Trump after Mueller exonerated him.
“It seems to me that we’re here because the Mueller report wasn’t what the Democrats thought it was going to be. In fact, it was just the opposite. What the attorney general tells us is that the principle findings of Mr. Mueller’s report were no new indictments, no sealed indictments, no collusion, no obstruction,” Jordan said.
Barr’s letters to Congress were a body blow to some in the Democratic base and in Congress who hoped Mueller would uncover evidence that would turn Republicans against the president and trigger impeachment hearings.
At the same time, there’s reason to think that things may not be as clear-cut as Barr suggested. His letters focus on the narrow question of whether Trump or members of his campaign broke the law in their dealings with Russia — not whether they engaged in activities that, while legal, could endanger national security.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is planning a separate briefing on Mueller’s counterintelligence findings for a small bipartisan group of congressional leaders, according to NBC News.
Mueller hasn’t made any statements to Congress or the public since ending his investigation last month. Barr’s letters to Congress contained just four partial sentences from the full Mueller report, which runs about 400 pages long.
Barr himself was appointed after Trump fired former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom the president regularly criticized for recusing himself from overseeing Mueller’s work. That led many Democrats to question whether Trump believed Barr would protect him from the probe.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) pushed back Wednesday against Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) and other Republicans on the committee who pointed to Barr’s letters as an exoneration of the president and his campaign.
“We don’t know that. That’s why we want to see it so we can know if he accurately did it,” Cohen said. “I want to find out if I was wrong, and I want the public to see it, too.”