Congress

As Democrats press for full Mueller report — all of it — GOP erects barriers

McConnell says he wants to avoid throwing ‘innocent people under the bus’

President Donald Trump takes questions from reporters he arrives with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for the Senate Republicans’ lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats want to see the Mueller report in its full, unredacted form. President Donald Trump has suggested that that’s fine by him.

But Republican leaders on Capitol Hill nudged Attorney General William Barr to color out some significant redactions before he releases special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s report to Congress. House Democratic committee chairmen have given him an April 2 deadline to do so.

Barr said in a four-page letter to Congress Sunday summarizing the Mueller report that his goal is to release as much of the full report as possible. But his schedule for doing so would depend on how quickly DOJ can scrub it for grand jury information “that by law cannot be made public,” he said.

While Democrats cited historical exceptions for the Justice Department to release information that is typically shrouded under grand jury secrecy rules or withheld because it relates to people who have not been charged with a crime, Republican leaders defended Barr's inclination to leave those parts out.

The back and forth on why Mueller’s report hasn’t been released yet

Handing the Mueller report to Congress without scrubbing it for information about people whom the special counsel decided not to indict risks throwing “innocent people under the bus,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a press conference Tuesday.

The attorney general should be left to decide what components of the report he wants to release and what components he wants to keep under wraps, the Kentucky Republican said.

If Barr withholds certain information from Mueller’s report, that would be unacceptable, Democratic lawmakers indicated Tuesday.

“There may be some redactions for security reasons, but other than that there should be no redactions,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said.

The Maryland Democrat’s statement echoed throughout the caucus, with members on the House Judiciary Committee arguing that the Justice Department should release everything, even information and transcripts under grand jury seal and from people who have so far escaped indictment.

‘Complete and unredacted ...’

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler sent a letter to Barr on Monday demanding the Mueller report “in complete and unredacted form” by next Tuesday, April 2.

Mueller submitted his final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia last week, but he has referred some offshoot investigative threads to other federal offices, including to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

In most cases, the Justice Department adheres to a policy of redacting sections of court files, reports, and other public documents that contain information about people who have not been charged with a crime as part of the relevant investigation. Trump and his adult children — two of whom serve in his administration and the other two on his campaign staff — are among the dozens of people who were not indicted but whom the Mueller report presumably mentions.

And federal Rule 6(e) for the criminal procedure, which deals with recording and disclosing grand jury proceedings, could prohibit Barr from unsealing some documents and transcripts obtained by the grand jury presiding over Mueller’s work and releasing them to Congress. Barr would need a court’s permission to release those grand jury documents.

Two exceptions

The DOJ has made two high-profile exceptions to its policies of withholding documents under grand jury seal and information pertaining to unindicted parties, instances that Democrats have been keen to highlight as precedents for Barr to release the report in unredacted form.

In the 1970s, the DOJ released to Congress  grand jury documents obtained during the Watergate investigation.

And in 1998, the department published the entire report from independent counsel Kenneth Starr, which contained grand jury information, along with every grand jury transcript from Starr’s four-year investigation into Bill Clinton’s involvement in the Whitewater land deal.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee argued that those cases set a precedent for Barr to release the Mueller report and its underlying evidence because the national interest supersedes secrecy rules.

“What [the DOJ] said when they discussed the Clinton case was that the public need-to-know [standard] exceeded the general policy,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a longtime Democratic House Judiciary Committee member.

“I think that would be equally true for anything relative to the president of the United States,” the California Democrat said, referring to Trump and the Mueller report.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, another Judiciary Committee member, cited the Watergate precedent on Tuesday as he argued for Barr to release the Mueller report “in its entirety.”

The Maryland Democrat and several of his colleagues told Roll Call Tuesday that they would permit some necessary redactions — including black-outs to protect sources and methods — but that they expected Barr to share the bulk of the report.

“The House voted 420-0 to turn over the report. This is a democracy. We are the people’s branch of government. We’re entitled to it. Full stop,” Raskin said.

When a reporter informed Raskin that the DOJ was already reviewing the report to potentially redact grand jury information, he delivered a more pointed rebuke of Barr.

“Obviously the attorney general is looking for every reason to bury the investigation, make it impossible for anything to be turned over,” Raskin said. “He wants the whole thing to be over. And that’s just not the way we see it. It’s not the Barr report we’re interested in. It’s the Mueller report we’re interested in.”

A Republican aide on the Judiciary Committee reiterated the GOP’s “faith”  Barr will release “as much of the special counsel’s report as he can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Justice Department policies.”

“As we’ve said before, we would like as much of the Mueller report as is appropriate to be released,” the GOP aide said.

In addition to the grand jury question, Democrats argued Tuesday that the DOJ should set aside its policy of not commenting on or releasing information about unindicted parties. The special counsel’s findings in this case are of vital public interest, lawmakers said.

Along with crimes committed by members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team — including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former personal lawyer Michael Cohen — Democrats want to examine “misconduct” by administration officials potentially outlined in Mueller’s report, said Rep. Ted Lieu, another Democrat on the Judiciary panel.

Lofgren agreed that such information should be made public in addition to grand jury transcripts and documents.

A Judiciary Committee aide declined to speculate Tuesday what the chairman’s next steps would be if Barr withholds information Democrats are demanding.

Nadler’s staff is coordinating a time with the DOJ for Barr to appear before the committee and testify about the Mueller report and his decision not to charge the president with obstruction of justice.

Watch: Lindsey Graham calls for a special counsel investigation on ‘the other side of the story’ following Mueller report

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