Congress

Democratic committee chairmen shift focus to Barr as House investigations forge ahead

House Democratic leaders want to examine what led attorney general to his conclusions

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler made it clear that Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary of the Mueller report doesn’t answer a number of questions into the investigation into possible obstruction of justice. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The key Democratic-controlled House committees investigating President Donald Trump and his administration are forging ahead with their probes into the president, his finances, and allegations of nepotism despite special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s conclusion publicized Sunday that he could not “establish” a case that that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 elections.

But while House Democrats continue with their investigative work, they made clear Sunday that Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary of Mueller’s key findings does not quell their appetite for information about Mueller’s 22-month probe.

The House Judiciary Committee will call Barr to testify about what they characterized as a hasty decision not to pursue obstruction of justice charges against the president for interfering with Mueller’s work and the FBI probe that preceded it, Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Sunday.

In a joint statement, Nadler, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings questioned Barr’s objectivity on the open legal question of whether a sitting president can commit obstruction of justice using tools under his authority as the nation’s chief executive — such as firing an FBI director whose bureau is looking into actions taken by his campaign team.

Trump fired then-FBI Director James B. Comey in 2017 amid the FBI’s Russia investigation that was a precursor to Mueller’s special counsel appointment.

“It is unacceptable that, after Special Counsel Mueller spent 22 months meticulously uncovering this evidence, Attorney General Barr made a decision not to charge the President in under 48 hours,” Nadler, Cummings, and Schiff said in the joint statement Sunday.

They criticized Barr, who came to his decision in consultation with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, for coming to his conclusion about Mueller's obstruction evidence without ever interviewing the president.

Rosenstein oversaw the day-to-day operations of the special counsel’s work after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from Russia-related matters.

The chairmen reiterated the long-held Democratic conviction that Barr must make Mueller’s work public, including the entirety of his final report and the underlying evidence that informed his conclusions and decision-making.

“The only information the Congress and the American people have received regarding this investigation is the Attorney General’s own work product,” the chairmen said in the lengthy statement in which they cast doubt on Barr’s impartiality.

“The Special Counsel’s Report should be allowed to speak for itself, and Congress must have the opportunity to evaluate the underlying evidence,” the chairmen said.

Nadler is expecting to receive “tens of thousands of documents” from 81 people and groups associated with the president, his administration, and his business empire as the Judiciary Committee probes allegations of obstruction of justice and corruption among Trump’s inner circle.

The Intelligence Committee has re-opened its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and communications between members of Trump's campaign team and Russia after the previous Republican majority shuttered that probe early in 2018. Schiff has expanded that inquiry to include Trump’s overseas financial ties to Russia and other foreign countries.

Cummings, whose Oversight Committee has broad authority to investigate the executive branch and its leaders, has sent a bevy of letters to administration officials on a half-dozen topics, including some inquiring whether Trump overrode the advice of career FBI officials to help his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, obtain top clearances.

In addition to the security clearance issue, Cummings’ committee is probing Trump’s alleged scheme during the 2016 campaign to buy the silence of two of his former mistresses, Playboy model Karen McDougal and pornographic actress Stormy Daniels.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are still investigating that thread as part of its larger probe into the president's real estate empire.

Mueller’s long-awaited final report was delivered to the Justice Department on Friday after a nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Mueller’s team of 19 lawyers — along with help from roughly 40 other experts and FBI agents — issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses, according to Barr’s letter.

Mueller’s report is broken into two sections, the first outlining the details and decision-making of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and the second dealing with his probe into whether the president had attempted to obstruct justice.

While he “did not establish” that members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to affect the outcome of the 2016 election, Mueller punted the decision on whether to pursue obstruction of justice charges against the president to the attorney general.

Barr and Rosenstein “concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” the AG wrote in his letter Sunday.

The White House immediately proclaimed victory after the letter indicating that Mueller’s team could not prove collusion became public on Sunday, though that proclamation could be premature.

The special counsel’s investigation was “an illegal takedown that failed,” Trump said Sunday speaking to reporters after the release of Barr’s letter before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

“There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction. None whatsoever,” he said. “It’s a shame that our country had to go through this. It’s a shame that your president had to go through this.”

Republicans in Congress have already begun characterizing further Democratic efforts to investigate various allegations of wrongdoing by Trump and his inner circle as a series of "fishing expeditions" by sore losers.

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