Congress

Democrats balk at Barr’s apparent Mueller report redactions

Attorney general expects to send redacted report to Congress by mid-April, willing to testify in early May

Attorney General William P. Barr expects to release a redacted version of the Mueller report by mid-April. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As Attorney General William Barr prepares to hand Congress a scrubbed version of the Mueller report “by mid-April or sooner,” he wrote lawmakers Friday, House Democrats, who want to see the special counsel’s findings in their full and unredacted form, appear to be facing an uphill climb.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler blasted Barr on Friday for “expending valuable time and resources trying to keep certain portions of this report from Congress” instead of acquiescing to Democratic demands not to redact anything from the report except information that would compromise U.S. intelligence sources and methods.

In a letter Friday to Nadler and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, Barr said the Justice Department is scrubbing the report filed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III last week for information regarding grand jury deliberations, national security information that would compromise intelligence sources or methods, material that could affect other ongoing investigations, and information that would “unduly infringe on the personal privacy and representational interests of peripheral third parties.”

Democrats have drawn a red line, demanding to see sections of the Mueller report that contain grand jury information and presumably mention the actions of nonindicted people caught up in the investigation, including President Donald Trump; his adult children Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and others in his administration.

Nadler doubled down Friday on the April 2 deadline he set earlier this week for Barr to deliver to Congress the “full and complete Mueller report, without redactions, as well as access to the underlying evidence.”

Per Barr’s letter Friday, he will likely not meet that deadline — because the DOJ is in the process of redacting information that Democrats have specifically requested that he not redact.

“The special counsel is assisting us in that process,” Barr said.

Lawmakers will get to grill Barr on DOJ’s decision to black out certain information when he comes to testify before the Judiciary committees. He said he is prepared to testify before the Senate panel May 1 and the House panel May 2.

While Graham indicated in a tweet Friday that he will oblige Barr’s request to testify in the Senate on May 1, Nadler suggested that the attorney general should testify earlier to explain the “rationale” for his conclusions to the Mueller investigation — shared with Congress on March 24 in a four-page summary — and his “rapid decision that the evidence developed was insufficient to establish an obstruction of justice offense” against the president.

Nadler will take Barr’s proposed hearing date of May 2 “under advisement,” he said.

Barr will not send the White House a copy of the Mueller report to review for executive privilege before he releases the redacted version to Congress and the public. The White House Counsel’s office had said it expected him to let it review the report for any conversations on which Trump might want to assert executive privilege. But Trump has publicly said he’s fine with the full report being released and deferred to Barr, comments the attorney general cited in his rationale for not sending the report to the White House for review.

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

After a 22-month investigation that has cast a shadow over most of the president’s first term to date, Mueller and his team “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the special counsel wrote in his report.

“While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Mueller also wrote.

The special counsel left the decision up to Barr whether to charge Trump for obstructing justice. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein declined to file any charges.

DOJ policy

 

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.

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, and Nadler suggested he work with the Judiciary Committee to obtain it.

But at least on two occasions, the DOJ has worked to release those two classes of information for past special and independent counsel investigations: Watergate in the 1970s and independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s four-year investigation into Bill Clinton’s involvement in the Whitewater land deal in the 1990s.

Barr’s decision to withhold that information marks a departure from DOJ precedent, Democrats have said.

“There is ample precedent for the Department of Justice sharing all of the information that the Attorney General proposes to redact to the appropriate congressional committees,“ Nadler said in his statement Friday.

 

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

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