House Democrats are ready to accuse Attorney General William P. Barr of a “coverup” to protect President Trump if he refuses to detail for Congress the information special counsel Robert S. Mueller III provided the grand jury during his investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
The pointed warning, delivered by senior Democratic aides during a media briefing Thursday, marked the latest sign of a potential legal standoff between lawmakers and the Justice Department over access to Mueller’s complete findings. Barr has pledged to redact grand jury information from Mueller’s report, which spans more than 300 pages, according to people familiar with the document, and that process is expected to take weeks.
That is far longer than Democrats say they are prepared to wait, and they have begun to express suspicion that the attorney general intends to prevent the public disclosure of information within Mueller’s findings that may be unflattering or otherwise problematic for the president. It remains unclear what precisely Barr plans to deliver to Congress.
“If he does not include grand jury information in the summary or report or redacted report or whatever he gives to Congress, that amounts to a coverup,” a House staffer — who, like the other aides, described Democrats’ plans on the condition of anonymity — told reporters at the briefing. “We do not want anything in the words of the attorney general. We want to see Robert Mueller’s words.”
House Democrats also said Thursday that they are prepared to authorize a subpoena for Mueller’s full report if Barr misses the Tuesday deadline lawmakers set for him to deliver it to Congress. They stopped short, however, of promising to issue a subpoena, even though the attorney general has indicated he is unlikely to make their deadline.
Democrats are bracing, too, for a potential fight with the administration if the White House attempts to assert executive privilege over portions of the report, the staffers said — and they are contemplating whether the House counsel should appeal to a judge on behalf of the six House committees investigating Trump, if Barr does not include the grand jury information in the information he provides lawmakers.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said there were no plans to give a copy of the report to the White House, but she otherwise declined to address questions concerning the Democrats’ plans and insinuations about the attorney general.
A four-page summary of Mueller’s findings, which Barr delivered to Congress on Sunday, has exacerbated Democrats’ concerns. The summary said the special counsel did not establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, and that he offered no conclusion on whether the president sought to obstruct justice during the investigation. Absent a firm conclusion from Mueller, Barr, in consultation with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, determined there was insufficient evidence to establish obstruction, the summary said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) charged Thursday that Barr’s letter was “an attempt to try to exonerate Mr. Trump,” one that had “the odor of political expediency.”
House Democratic staffers said Thursday that they believe Barr’s statement broke with Justice Department precedent and showed a willingness to flout Congress’s oversight role.
Barr said during his confirmation hearing that he would be as transparent as possible, within the confines of the law and Justice Department policy. But he has never committed to turning over all the materials Mueller reviewed, which Democrats say are essential for them to determine whether the president was ever compromised by his foreign contacts, even if they did not rise to the level of criminal activity.
As Democrats pledged to continue investigating the president, Trump and his allies lashed out at his critics, chiefly the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who maintains there is still evidence of collusion with Russia, even if Trump won’t be charged. On Thursday, the committee’s Republican members formally called on Schiff to step down as chairman, submitting a letter they all signed declaring they had “no faith” in his ability to lead them.
“You’ve been at the center of a well-orchestrated media campaign, claiming, among other things, that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government,” Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) said to Schiff at the start of a hearing, reading from the letter.
Mueller’s findings, the letter said, “have exposed you as having abused your position to knowingly promote false information, having damaged the integrity of this committee, and undermined faith in U.S. government institutions.”
At a news conference Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) compared Schiff to the disgraced late senator Joseph McCarthy, who was the driving force behind a campaign to expose communist infiltration in government and across society. His heavy-handed tactics and rampant charges of treason are remembered as one of the country’s darker periods. The minority leader accused Schiff of lying to the public and smearing an innocent man. Trump, on Twitter, called on Schiff to resign from Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) backed Schiff, chastising Republicans as “scaredy cats” who were “afraid of the truth.”
“They’re afraid of competence,” she said.
When he took over as chairman earlier this year, Schiff launched a new Intelligence Committee investigation into alleged collusion and money laundering involving Trump and his associates. For the past two years, the Senate Intelligence Committee also has investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, including allegations of Trump’s ties to Russia. On Thursday, the panel met privately with Jared Kushner, its second interview with the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Republicans closely aligned with the president have urged for a return to inquiries focused on how federal law enforcement agencies conducted themselves during the investigations of Trump and Russia, and Hillary Clinton’s emails — topics House Republicans explored last year.
On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Douglas A. Collins (Ga.), released the transcript from a 2018 interview with Nellie Ohr, a former employee of Fusion GPS, the firm behind a controversial dossier alleging Trump had personal and financial ties to Russia. Ohr’s husband, Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, met on several occasions with the author of that dossier, former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.
In her interview, Nellie Ohr told congressional investigators that part of the work she did for Fusion GPS involved looking into open-source materials concerning potential links between Trump, his subordinates and organized crime.
John Wagner, Rachael Bade and Shane Harris contributed to this report.