Opinion writer

When Attorney General P. William Barr released his four-page summary of Robert S. Mueller III’s report on the Russia scandal, making clear that Mueller could not prove a criminal conspiracy had occurred and took no conclusive position on whether President Trump had committed obstruction of justice, Republicans went into paroxysms of joy so dramatic you would have thought the Rapture had arrived.

So naturally, they immediately began pressing for the entire Mueller report to be made public as soon as possible so that all Americans could gaze in wonder at its contents and understand the purity of Trump’s innocence.

Actually, no. The president and his allies seem to be getting cold feet about the report's release, so Democrats decided to force the issue:

A House panel voted Wednesday to authorize subpoenas to obtain special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s full report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, laying down a marker in a constitutional power struggle that could end up in the courts.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 24 to 17 along party lines to authorize its chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), to subpoena the report and underlying documents of Mueller’s probe from Attorney General William P. Barr.

So to be clear: Every Republican on the committee voted not to subpoena the unredacted report and supporting materials, to say that they don’t need to see all the information. Why might that be?

One explanation is that they’re getting signals that it’s what Trump wants. As Trump tweeted Tuesday, “There is no amount of testimony or document production that can satisfy Jerry Nadler or Shifty Adam Schiff. It is now time to focus exclusively on properly running our great Country!”

In other words, just let Barr decide what should and shouldn’t be redacted; we don’t need to see the full report. And the fact that Barr almost certainly got his job because he wrote a memo to the Justice Department expressing his opinion that the president couldn’t possibly be guilty of obstruction of justice, thereby assuring Trump he’d protect him? That just shows how wise Barr is.

Another explanation is that they're worried that if the the committee sees the unredacted report, the Democrats will complain about material that shouldn't have been redacted, and maybe even leak parts of that material to embarrass the president. Which is possible. But that would only be a real problem if there is material in the report that puts Trump and others around him, including staff and members of his family, in an unflattering light.

Here’s the thing about that: There are, almost without question, lots and lots of things in the report that will make Trump look bad, even if they aren’t criminal and even if they aren’t startling new revelations. For instance, we already know that through the 2016 primaries, Trump was trying to arrange a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, a deal that could have garnered him hundreds of millions of dollars, which he concealed from the public. Getting more details about this will allow us to understand it more fully.

But that would mean a bunch of articles and TV news stories going over those details, telling again the story of Russia's successful intervention in the election on Trump's behalf and all the ways Trump and his associates welcomed and encouraged that intervention.

It would be much better for Republicans if no version of the full report was ever released, and all we were left with was Barr's letter and a bunch of people on Fox News shouting "No collusion! No collusion!" But since they can't have that, at the very least they'd like to keep as much material in the report hidden from any scrutiny, either by members of Congress or the public.

But this is a battle Democrats are probably going to win, since they have a majority on congressional committees and the ability to issue subpoenas. And Republicans are left arguing that the Mueller report totally exonerates the president, but also that we shouldn’t look too closely at it.

They’re been trying to sell a story that goes like this: There was a big phony investigation, and in the end it found that Trump was completely innocent. But when we see the report, there a different story will probably take hold: There was a completely justified investigation because Trump and those around him did a whole lot of shady things with regard to Russia, and though the president managed to escape prosecution (even if many of his aides didn’t), his behavior was still deeply problematic, even scandalous. Which, even from what we know already, is the truth.

Read more:

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Congress is right to subpoena the Mueller report. It shouldn’t have had to.

Harry Litman: A ‘road map’ for the coming fight over the Mueller report