Democrats fight for complete Mueller report
Democrats threatened this week to subpoena special counsel Robert Mueller’s full, unredacted report in a mounting battle to make public the results of his Russia investigation. The House had set a deadline of April 2 for Attorney General William Barr to submit the full report to Congress. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), did not indicate whether he intended to follow through with the subpoena, but argued that Congress needs the full, nearly 400-page report to fulfill its “duty under the Constitution to determine whether wrongdoing has occurred.” Nadler said the big question is whether Congress sees Mueller’s findings, “or does [Barr] redact it so it’s meaningless?”
Mueller filed his report on March 22, and two days later, the attorney general summarized his findings in a four-page letter. Barr said that Mueller did not “establish’’ that Trump or his campaign had engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia, but that the special counsel had chosen not to decide whether the president obstructed justice and indicated that he could not “exonerate’’ Trump. Barr then ruled there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge Trump with obstruction. Trump hailed the letter as “complete and total exoneration.” Barr said he is working with Mueller to redact information related to grand jury proceedings; other, ongoing investigations; classified documents; and material that would harm the reputations of people not charged with crimes. He told Congress he’ll submit a redacted report by “mid-April, if not sooner.” Trump backed away from initial support for releasing the full report. “This has been going on for years,’’ he said. “Now they want to keep it going on?”
What the columnists said
“Barr is right” that the law demands he redact classified and grand jury information before the report is made public, said Nelson Cunningham in Politico.com. But it’s also settled law that the House Judiciary Committee can see the full, unredacted report. In 1974, the same committee subpoenaed special prosecutor Leon Jaworski’s Watergate report. The White House objected but U.S. District Judge John Sirica overruled it—a decision affirmed 5-1 on appeal. As historians and legal experts suggest, Barr “is conflating what information the American public can see with what Congress is entitled to see,” said Heather Timmons in Qz.com.
Barr revealed a key fact, said Tiana Lowe in WashingtonExaminer.com: Mueller is closely involved in decisions about how much of the report will be made public. “This detail effectively takes the wind out of the sails of anyone hoping that Barr massively misconstrued Mueller’s findings in his primary letter from last week.”
That doesn’t change how Barr’s summary “overstepped his authority,” said Michael Zeldin in CNN.com. Nothing in the special counsel regulations authorizes the attorney general to release Trump from potential obstruction charges. That’s Congress’ job. Barr plucked a single sentence from a nearly 400-page report and surrounded it with “exonerating language,” said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. But Barr did not disclose what Mueller found out about the 100-plus contacts between Trump’s aides and Russians, or the “long series of obstructive acts dating to the beginning of his presidency.” Trump’s claim to be exonerated makes knowing what’s behind Barr’s summary all the more important.