Washington • The House Judiciary Committee approved subpoenas Wednesday for special counsel Robert Mueller’s full Russia report as Democrats pressure the Justice Department to release the document without redactions.
The committee voted 24-17 to give Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., permission to issue subpoenas to the Justice Department for the final report, its exhibits and any underlying evidence or materials prepared for Mueller’s investigation. Nadler has not yet said if he’ll send the subpoenas, which would be the first step in a potentially long fight with the Justice Department over the materials.
The Judiciary panel also voted Wednesday to authorize subpoenas related to five of President Donald Trump's former top advisers, stepping up a separate, wide-ranging investigation into Trump and his personal and political dealings.
On the Mueller report, House Democrats had given Attorney General William Barr until Tuesday to provide an unredacted version to Congress, along with underlying materials. The Justice Department ignored that deadline, with Barr telling committee chairmen in a letter last week that he was in the process of redacting portions of the almost 400-page report and it would be released by mid-April, “if not sooner.”
The vote further escalates the Democrats' battle with the Justice Department over how much of the report they will be able to see, a fight that could eventually head to court if the two sides can't settle their differences through negotiation. Democrats have said they will not accept redactions and want to see the evidence unfiltered by Barr.
In the letter last week, Barr said he is scrubbing the report to avoid disclosing any grand jury information or classified material, in addition to portions of the report that pertain to ongoing investigations or that "would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties."
Democrats say they want access to all of that information, even if some of it can't be disclosed to the public. Nadler said he will give Barr time to change his mind on redactions, but if they cannot reach an agreement they will issue the subpoenas "in very short order." He also said he is prepared to go to court to get the grand jury information.
"This committee requires the full report and the underlying materials because it is our job, not the attorney general's, to determine whether or not President Trump has abused his office," Nadler said.
The five former Trump advisers who could receive subpoenas are strategist Steve Bannon, communications director Hope Hicks, chief of staff Reince Priebus, White House counsel Donald McGahn and counsel Ann Donaldson. Donaldson served as McGahn's chief of staff before both left the administration.
The five were key witnesses in Mueller's probe of possible obstruction of justice and were sent document requests by the Judiciary panel last month, along with dozens of other people connected to Trump. Nadler said he is concerned about reports that documents relevant to Mueller's investigation "were sent outside the White House," meaning the committee should have access to them because they may not be covered by executive privilege.
The top Republican on the Judiciary panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said at the vote that the five subpoenas are misguided because two of the individuals have already provided 3,000 documents to the committee and that the other three have indicated a willingness to cooperate.
Collins said the authorization for all of the subpoenas is "reckless" and that Democrats shouldn't be asking for documents that the Justice Department can't legally disclose to the public. The committee rejected a GOP amendment that would have blocked the subpoenas from applying to grand jury information.
"We have a pre-emptive chairman who has gone out with pre-emptive subpoenas today on a report that has already been promised him," Collins said. "This is nothing but political theater."
Trump himself has largely deferred to Barr on the report's release while also saying he wouldn't mind if the full version was made public. Still, he has criticized Democrats for seeking the unredacted information. He tweeted Tuesday that "there is no amount of testimony or document production that can satisfy" Nadler or House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, who has also called for the full release.
Mueller notified Barr that he had completed the investigation March 22 and sent him the report. In a four-page summary of that report released two days later, Barr wrote that the special counsel did not find that Trump's campaign "conspired or coordinated" with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election. He also said Mueller reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed the federal investigation, instead setting out "evidence on both sides" of the question.
Barr himself went further than Mueller in his summary letter, declaring that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient to prove in court that Trump had committed obstruction of justice to hamper the probe. Democrats criticized Barr’s assessment, saying they instead want to see what Mueller wrote.