House Democrats are ratcheting up pressure on Attorney General William P. Barr to make special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s final report public, a move foreshadowing a potentially explosive intergovernmental battle to come over the release of the Russia investigation’s conclusions.
The chairs of six House committees investigating President Trump’s relationship with Russia, Trump Organization business dealings and any use of the president’s government position for personal gain sent Barr a letter Friday laying down a marker on their expectations.
“After nearly two years of investigation — accompanied by two years of direct attacks on the integrity of the investigation by the President — the public is entitled to know what the Special Counsel has found,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) wrote in a Friday afternoon letter.
They added: “We write to you to express, in the strongest possible terms, our expectation that the Department of Justice will release to the public the report Special Counsel Mueller submits to you — without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law.”
The chairs even suggested that Barr’s refusal to turn over evidence of misconduct by Trump could amount to a “coverup” approved by the executive branch. Justice Department regulations state that a sitting president cannot be indictment or prosecuted, they noted. Thus, Congress “could be the only institution currently situated to act on evidence of the President’s misconduct,” they concluded.
“To maintain that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and then to withhold evidence of wrongdoing from Congress because the President will not be charged, is to convert Department policy into the means for a coverup,” the chairs wrote. “The President is not above the law.”
The Friday correspondence follows multiple reports, including by The Washington Post, that Mueller is winding down his two-year probe, which has consumed Washington for nearly the entirety of Trump’s presidency. The much-anticipated report is expected to lay out Mueller’s decisions to prosecute some individual but not others.
On Friday, a senior Justice Department official said the report will not be delivered to Barr next week. Still, many believe the investigation is in its final stages, and they expect the findings soon.
But the end of the Russia investigation is only the beginning of another battle already heating up on Capitol Hill: a question of whether to impeach the president. Democratic Party leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), have long said that the findings of Mueller’s report will determine whether Democrats decide to launch impeachment proceedings.
First, they have to get their hands on the report, a task likely to cause tensions between Congress and the Justice Department. Technically, the report will be confidential. And Barr will decide what parts of the report he makes public, if any.
The newly confirmed attorney general indicated during his confirmation proceedings that he sees little benefit in publicizing allegations against an individual if no charges will be brought against him or her. But since questions of impeachment are often political — not legal — Democrats insist they need to view the entire report, even if Justice officials decline to bring charges against the president.
“[A]lthough we recognize the policy of the Department to remain sensitive to the privacy and reputation interests of individuals who will not face criminal charges, we feel that it is necessary to address the particular danger of withholding evidence of misconduct by President Trump from the relevant committees,” the chairs wrote. “If the Special Counsel has reason to believe that the President has engaged in criminal or other serious misconduct, then the President must be subject to accountability either in a court or to the Congress.”
Rank-and-file lawmakers are also champing at the bit to see the document. Judiciary Committee member David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), who is in Pelosi’s leadership circle, will introduce legislation next week trying to force the release of the Mueller report.
“We are going to use . . . legal remedies, legislative remedies, court remedies, if we need to,” Cicilline told CNN’s “New Day” on Friday. “This report belongs to the American people. They have a right to know the truth.”
Some Senate Republicans have also called for the report to be made public. It is unclear, however, if enough senators in the GOP-controlled upper chamber would join their House Democratic counterparts in trying to force its release.
In their letter Friday, the six House committee chairs argued that if Barr is unwilling to make the report public, he should at least make it available to Congress.
They also argued that the public has a right to know the details of Russia’s attempt to sway the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
Citing maneuvers House Republicans used last Congress in their attempt to investigate alleged bias at the FBI — a probe Democrats say was an attempt to undercut and discredit Mueller’s efforts — Democrats argued there is precedent for the Justice Department to give Congress sensitive and confidential information surrounding the probe.
Republicans received such information last year. Now Democrats want the same courtesy.