Democrats have yet to see details of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on President Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election but are insisting they will press ahead with their investigations no matter what the conclusions.
In a rare Saturday conference call for House Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted on full disclosure of Mueller’s report, telling her colleagues that she would reject any classified briefing on the report from the 22-month investigation for just a select group of lawmakers. Separately, six committee chairs said they would proceed with inquiries into whether Trump obstructed justice or abused the powers of his office.
“Congress requires the full report and the underlying documents so that the committees can proceed with their independent work, including oversight and legislating to address any issues the Mueller report may raise,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues shortly before the call.
Americans, she told Democrats on the call, “deserve the truth, to know the truth. Transparency is the order of the day.”
Mueller submitted his report to the Justice Department on Friday. The conference call for Democrats came shortly after Justice officials informed lawmakers that they would not be receiving Attorney General William P. Barr’s summary of the report until Sunday at the earliest.
The committee chairs discussed their inquiries during the call, according to participants who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the conversations.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, described his ongoing probe of Trump’s interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as his interest in Trump’s business interests in Moscow.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who heads the House Financial Services Committee, discussed her probe into the role banks played in funding the Trump Organization and accepting potentially fraudulent documents. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that news of no further indictments didn’t mean criminal activity did not occur.
“The Mueller report is one document; it is not, however, the final word on ongoing investigations, criminal or otherwise,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), a senior member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “There is a lot that falls beyond the jurisdiction of Robert S. Mueller III which the Congress is involved in — and some other investigative bodies, like the Southern District of New York and the attorney general of New York. . . . So the fact that Mueller [is finished] does not in any way circumscribe the ongoing work of the Congress.”
The insistence of the Democrats to move forward came as Republicans cited the news from the Justice Department of no further indictments as vindication for Trump, who has maintained that there was no collusion between him and Russia.
Noteworthy during the 35-minute call involving 120 Democrats was that the word “impeachment” never came up. Pelosi has sought to tamp down taking that step, arguing that it makes no sense politically without Republican support and is too divisive for the country.
Democrats for weeks have argued that if Barr withholds the report from lawmakers and the public, it would amount to a legitimized “coverup” that shields Trump from accountability.
The committee chairs said they expect to receive a limited readout of Mueller’s findings and predicted the Justice Department would argue against releasing damaging information on anyone it didn’t indict.
Democrats laid out a series of counterarguments of past instances when reports or information were fully disclosed. They pointed to the Republican investigation into the deadly 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for government business while she was secretary of state. During that years-long probe, the Democratic-led Justice Department provided more than 880,000 documents to Congress.
House Democratic leaders also stressed on the call that special counsel John C. Danforth’s report on the 1993 standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex., was made public.
Several Democrats said Mueller’s findings would be interesting but not dispositive in terms of the next steps members would take in the six ongoing House probes of Trump’s campaign, his businesses and his family’s links to foreign individuals and entities.
“We need to follow the evidence, and while the special counsel had a special charge . . . we have a broader charge: to determine whether there was obstruction of justice or abuse of power,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House oversight and intelligence committees, said in an interview after the call.
Democrats said Saturday that Mueller’s findings might inform the details of what lines of inquiry they would pursue during their probe.
“We will be in a position as soon as we get the report and underlying evidence to make the judgment about where we need to go in terms of a number of different live investigations . . . some matters might be resolved by what is learned on the report, some matters might be rendered moot, other matters might be opened up for greater investigation,” Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) said in an interview after the call.
But he stressed that “there are plenty of things that have gone wrong with this administration that have absolutely nothing to do with the subject of the Mueller investigation.”
In other words, Democrats say there will be plenty to investigate regarding Trump, even if Mueller’s report largely exonerates him.
“The delivery of the report and underlying evidence is going to sharpen our inquiry and give us the road map for thinking about precisely where all these investigations are going,” Raskin said.