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House Democrats will subpoena Mueller if report is not made public, Schiff says

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said Feb.24 House Democrats will subpoena Robert S. Mueller III to testify if his report is not made public. (Video: The Washington Post)

House Democrats plan to subpoena the report produced by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III if the Justice Department doesn’t release to Congress the full findings of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, increasing the political pressure on the Trump administration with the nearly two-year inquiry expected to end soon.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said Sunday that Democrats also are prepared to subpoena Mueller and go to court against the Trump administration, if necessary.

“Well, we will obviously subpoena the report. We will bring Bob Mueller in to testify before Congress. We will take it to court if necessary,” Schiff said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “And in the end, I think the [Justice] Department understands they’re going to have to make this public. I think [Attorney General William P.] Barr will ultimately understand that, as well.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman and a Mueller spokesman declined to comment.

During his confirmation hearing last month, Barr said his goal would be to “provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law.” His testimony prompted concern among Democrats that he could choose not to release any of the findings that have not been made public through indictments.

Rumors swirled last week that the report could be delivered before the end of the month. But a senior Justice Department official said Friday that the report will not come this week.

President Trump is traveling to Hanoi this week for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Justice Department regulations call for Mueller’s report to be a confidential account of those who were charged, as well as those who were not charged. Barr, who was confirmed earlier this month, will then notify Congress of the investigation’s end, although it is unclear how much additional detail he will provide.

Democrats have been pressing the Trump administration to make available as much of the Mueller report as possible. On Friday, Schiff and five other House committee chairmen sent a letter to Barr emphasizing their expectation that he will release the report to the public “without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law.”

Schiff said Sunday that if the new attorney general withholds any part of the report, his legacy will be “tarnished.” He added that Trump should support the report’s release, given his repeated claims that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government.

“We are going to share this information with the public, and if the president is serious about all of his claims of exoneration, then he should welcome the publication of this report,” he said.

Other Democrats echoed Schiff’s pledge to take action.

Sen. Edward J. Markey (Mass.) said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” that if Barr “sanitizes” the report, lawmakers from both parties “have a responsibility to ensure that the American people know what happened in 2016.”

In a CNN interview, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), a 2020 presidential candidate, described herself as “an advocate for a public report” but also said that lawmakers should be given any supporting information, including in a classified hearing, if necessary.

Some have viewed Barr’s criticism of former FBI director James B. Comey during last month’s hearing as an indication of how he might handle the Mueller report. Barr argued that Comey was wrong to have announced during the 2016 campaign that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would not be charged for her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.

“If you’re not going to indict someone, you don’t stand up there and unload negative information about the person,” Barr said at the time.

His remarks stoked speculation that he might be inclined to keep secret all or part of the Mueller report, depending on the findings.

Complicating matters is the Justice Department’s long-standing position that a sitting president cannot be indicted. The six House Democratic committee chairmen touched on that point in their letter Friday, arguing that withholding evidence because the president would not be charged “is to convert Department policy into the means for a cover-up.”

Republicans have pushed back by increasingly directing their criticism at Schiff, with many arguing that he has rushed to proclaim Trump guilty without waiting for the findings. Trump derided Schiff earlier this month as a “political hack” when asked about his expanding investigations of the president’s finances.

Former congressman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) mocked Schiff on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures,” saying that although no witnesses have alleged conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, “that three-eyed raven, Adam Schiff — who can see things nobody else can see — says he has evidence.”

In a separate appearance on the program, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) warned that if Democrats “keep pushing” the issue of collusion, “it’s going to blow up in their face in 2020” on Election Day.

Opinions on whether Democrats would be able to subpoena Mueller were split on Sunday.

In an appearance on NBC News’s “Meet the Press,” Neal Katyal, who was acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, said it was “certainly possible” that Mueller would testify before Congress.

If Mueller reports potential wrongdoing by the president, Barr not only has the discretion to turn the report over to Congress, “indeed, he has to,” said Katyal, who drafted the special counsel regulations.

“The overall intent of the regulations — it’s said time and time again — is public confidence in the administration of justice. And any sort of suppressed report about presidential wrongdoing will flunk that test,” he said.

On “Face the Nation,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) voiced uncertainty about whether Democrats could enforce a subpoena against Mueller.

“I don’t know that you can,” he told host Margaret Brennan.

Blunt also declined to say whether the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which he is a member, may pursue its own effort to have Mueller testify.

“I think we’ll have to wait and see what’s in the report,” he said.

Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, said the next three to four months are going to be “a real meat grinder” for the president because of the Mueller investigation and the ongoing inquiries into Trump’s inaugural committee and other organizations connected to him.

“The pressure on the president is coming from many different angles,” Bannon said on “Face the Nation.” Much of the Mueller report, he predicted, will focus on potential obstruction of justice, and the report’s reception will hinge on whether the public believes the president, as “chief law enforcement officer, has the right to make those decisions or not.”

In the coming weeks, Barr is likely to face pressure not only from Congress but also from the president.

If Trump asks Barr to let him read the Mueller report, that is “perfectly fine,” said Solomon Wisenberg, who was deputy independent counsel in the investigation of President Bill Clinton.

But the problem will be if Trump orders Barr to take a certain action on the report, Wisenberg said on “Meet the Press.”

“I don’t think Barr will stand for that,” he said.

Devlin Barrett, Karoun Demirjian and Peter Holley contributed to this report.