Democrats are pressing for full disclosure of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation and vowing to use subpoena powers and other legal means if necessary to get it.
Attorney General William Barr was expected to release his first summary of Mueller’s findings on Sunday, people familiar with the process said, on what lawmakers anticipated could be a day of reckoning in the two-year probe into President Donald Trump and Russian efforts to elect him. Since receiving the report Friday, Barr has been deciding how much of it Congress and the public will see.
Democrats are on a hair trigger over the prospect that some information may be withheld.
“I suspect that we’ll find those words of transparency to prove hollow, that in fact they will fight to make sure that Congress doesn’t get this underlying evidence,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, chairman of the House intelligence committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
His plan: Ask for information and if that’s denied, “subpoena. If subpoenas are denied, we will haul people before the Congress. And yes, we will prosecute in court as necessary to get this information.”
At his resort in Florida, Trump stirred from an unusual, nearly two-day silence on Twitter with the anodyne tweet Sunday morning: “Good Morning, Have a Great Day!” Then followed up: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Mueller’s investigation is known to have concluded without a recommendation for further indictments after having snared nearly three dozen people, senior Trump campaign operatives among them. It illuminated Russia’s assault on the American political system, painted the Trump campaign as eager to exploit the release of hacked Democratic emails to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and exposed lies by Trump aides aimed at covering up their Russia-related contacts.
Although the probe ended without any public charges of a criminal conspiracy by the president, it was not known whether Mueller concluded that the campaign colluded with the Kremlin to tip the election in Trump’s favour.
Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Democrats won’t be willing to wait long for the Justice Department to hand over full information on the probe into whether Trump’s 2016 campaign co-ordinated with Russia to sway the election and whether the president later sought to obstruct the investigation.
“It won’t be months,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Asked if he still believes Trump obstructed justice, he indicated there has been obstruction but “whether it’s criminal is another question.”
Mueller submitted his report to Barr instead of directly to the public because, unlike independent counsels such as Ken Starr, his investigation operated under the close supervision of the Justice Department, which appointed him.
Mueller was assigned to the job in May 2017 by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw much of his work, and the regulations governing his appointment require that he submit a confidential report to the Justice Department at the conclusion of his investigation. That’s in direct contrast to Starr, who did not report to Justice Department leadership and was empowered to release on his own his exhaustive report detailing his investigation into the relationship between President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
Barr and Rosenstein analyzed Mueller’s report on Saturday, labouring to condense it into a summary letter of main conclusions.
Barr has said he wants to release as much as he can under the law. That decision will require him to weigh the Justice Department’s longstanding protocol of not releasing negative information about people who aren’t indicted against the extraordinary public interest in a criminal investigation into the president and his campaign.
Democrats are citing the department’s recent precedent of norm-breaking disclosures, including during the Hillary Clinton email investigation, to argue that they’re entitled to Mueller’s entire report and the underlying evidence he collected.
Even with the details still under wraps, Friday’s end to the 22-month probe without additional indictments by Mueller was welcome news to some in Trump’s orbit who had feared a final round of charges could target more Trump associates or members of the president’s family.
The White House sought to keep its distance, saying Sunday it had not been briefed on the report. Trump, who has relentlessly criticized Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” went golfing Saturday and was uncharacteristically quiet on Twitter. Not so one of his guests, musician Kid Rock, who posted a picture with the president and the tweet, “Another great day on the links!” He added: “What a great man, so down to earth and so fun to be with!!”
The conclusion of Mueller’s investigation does not remove legal peril for the president.
He faces a separate Justice Department investigation in New York into hush money payments during the campaign to two women who say they had sex with him years before the election. He’s also been implicated in a potential campaign finance violation by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who says Trump asked him to arrange the transactions. Federal prosecutors, also in New York, have been investigating foreign contributions made to the president’s inaugural committee.
In a letter to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the congressional judiciary committees, Barr noted on Friday that the department had not denied any request from Mueller, something Barr would have been required to disclose to ensure there was no political interference. Trump was never interviewed in person by Mueller’s team, but submitted answers to questions in writing.
In a conference call Saturday about next steps, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a warning for his fellow Democrats, some of whom have pinned high political hopes on Mueller’s findings: “Once we get the principal conclusions of the report, I think it’s entirely possible that that will be a good day for the president and his core supporters.”
A number of Trump associates and family members have been dogged by speculation of possible wrongdoing. Among them are Donald Trump Jr., who helped arrange a Trump Tower meeting at the height of the 2016 campaign with a Kremlin-linked lawyer, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was interviewed at least twice by Mueller’s prosecutors.
All told, Mueller charged 34 people, including the president’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and three Russian companies. Twenty-five Russians were indicted on charges related to election interference, accused either of hacking Democratic email accounts during the campaign or of orchestrating a social media campaign that spread disinformation on the internet.
Five Trump aides pleaded guilty and agreed to co-operate with Mueller and a sixth, longtime confidant Roger Stone, is awaiting trial on charges that he lied to Congress and engaged in witness tampering.
Peter Carr, spokesman for the special counsel, said Saturday that the case of former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates will be handed off to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Gates was a key co-operator in Mueller’s probe and court papers show he continues to help with several other federal investigations.
Justice Department legal opinions have held that sitting presidents may not be indicted. But many Democrats say Trump should not be immune from a public accounting of his behaviour. Though the department typically does not disclose negative information about people who are not indicted, officials have at times broken from that protocol.
Former FBI Director James Comey famously held a July 2016 news conference in which he criticized Clinton as “extremely careless” in her use of a private email server but said the FBI would not recommend charges. The Justice Department also took the extraordinary step of making available to lawmakers the details of a secret surveillance warrant obtained on a Trump campaign aide in the early days of the Russia probe.
Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo And Chad Day, The Associated Press