House panel authorizes subpoena for Mueller report as Trump backs away from calls for public release

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

(CNN) — The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a subpoena to obtain the full confidential report from special counsel Robert Mueller, sending a warning to Attorney General William Barr not to redact Mueller’s report and setting the stage for a clash between Congress and the Trump administration.

Wednesday’s vote, which was divided along party lines, comes the day after an April 2 deadline House Democrats set for Barr to provide the full Mueller report to Congress. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler now has the ability to issue a subpoena for Mueller’s unredacted report as well as the underlying evidence collected during the 22-month investigation into Trump’s team.

Nadler says he is not issuing the subpoena immediately, but Wednesday’s action escalates the fight over Mueller’s investigation between House Democrats and Trump, who has recently walked back his previous calls for the report to be released.

“We are going to work with the AG for a short period of time and hope that he will reveal to us the entire Mueller report and all the underlying materials, and we’ll go to court to get permission to have this material,” Nadler told reporters after Wednesday’s markup. “But if that doesn’t work out, in a very short order, we will issue the subpoenas.”

Barr has said he is working with Mueller to release a redacted version of the report, which totals nearly 400 pages, and plans to release it publicly around mid-April. But Democrats have said that a redacted report is not acceptable.

Nadler said Wednesday he would not negotiate with Barr on what is provided to Congress. He acknowledged some material needed to be redacted publicly, but argued Congress should be able to see everything.

“The committee is entitled and must see all the material and make judgments as to what can be redacted for the public release by ourselves,” Nadler said.

In addition to the Mueller report subpoena, the committee plans to vote to authorize five subpoenas Wednesday for former White House officials — Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Hope Hicks, Donald McGahn and Annie Donaldson — related to obtaining documents in the panel’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice.

The committee does not plan to issue the subpoenas Wednesday, but now that they are authorized, Nadler can issue them at any time afterward, according to a Democratic committee aide. Democrats want to show courts they were being reasonable in giving the Justice Department time to respond, the aide said, if the issue ultimately comes down to a court fight.

Nadler said Wednesday he was willing to go to court to obtain the materials if Barr did not budge on what’s provided to Congress.

“I will give him time to change his mind. But if we cannot reach an accommodation, then we will have no choice but to issue subpoenas for these materials,” Nadler said at Wednesday’s subpoena markup. “And if the Department still refuses, then it should be up to a judge — not the President or his political appointee — to decide whether or not it is appropriate for the committee to review the complete record.”

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, accused Nadler of voting on the pre-emptive subpoenas to generate headlines, calling it “political theater.” He said that Nadler was asking Barr to provide information that goes against the law.

“He’s is expressly forbidden from providing grand jury materials outside the department (with) very limited exceptions. Congress is not one of the exceptions and the chairman knows it,” Collins said. “The attorney general, although he has been smeared repeatedly, is doing exactly what the regulation says. And for that, congratulations Mr. Attorney General, you get a subpoena.”

Trump less enthusiastic about releasing report

Soon after Mueller concluded his report, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office it “wouldn’t bother me at all” if the report was made public. But he has since indicated less enthusiasm for releasing a report he once wrongly claimed “totally exonerated” him, though he continues to maintain that it’s Barr’s decision to release the report.

“There is no amount of testimony or document production that can satisfy Jerry Nadler or Shifty Adam Schiff,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “It is now time to focus exclusively on properly running our great Country!”

And as Democrats have demanded the full Mueller report from Barr, Nadler and Schiff, the House Intelligence chairman, have increasingly become targets of Trump’s attacks on Twitter and in public. Trump on Tuesday accused Nadler of opposing the 1998 release of Ken Starr’s report after the investigation into former President Bill Clinton.

“So Jerry Nadler thought the concept of giving the Starr Report was absolutely something you could never do. But when it comes to the Mueller Report, which is different on our side, that would be something that he should get. It’s hypocrisy and it’s a disgrace,” Trump said Tuesday in an Oval Office meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Nadler responded by saying Trump was wrong because his comments came after Starr’s report had already been released publicly, and when Congress was debating whether to make Starr’s evidence public, too.

“In 1998, the debate was not about Congress receiving evidence. Congress had already received the full, 445-page report and 17 boxes of additional documents, including grand jury material,” Nadler said. “We are owed that same opportunity today.”

Grand jury material and classified information

In Wednesday’s markup, Republicans accused Democrats of ignoring the regulations establishing the special counsel that Mueller worked under, in an attempt to obtain information that is classified or grand jury material that’s protected by law from being released.

“The attorney general has promised to provide as much transparency as he possibly can, but I’m afraid that’s never going to be good enough for some in here,” said Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican.

Ratcliffe suggested the committee should subpoena Mueller instead of the Justice Department to find out what he thinks should be released.

“Let Bob Mueller come, and let’s ask Bob Mueller to come and whether or not he thinks the report he created should be disclosed without considerations of redactions for classified national security information, or without redactions for grand jury information or other information related to ongoing investigations,” he said.

Nadler argued that Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the President accountable. He pointed to previous efforts from the Judiciary Committee to obtain documents during the investigations into former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, as well as the Republican-led effort in the last Congress to obtain documents connected to the Hillary Clinton investigation and the start of the Trump-Russia probe.

“The Constitution charges Congress with holding the President accountable for alleged official misconduct,” Nadler said. “That job requires us to evaluate the evidence for ourselves — not the Attorney General’s summary, not a substantially redacted synopsis, but the full report and the underlying evidence.”

Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado proposed an amendment to limit grand jury material that could be obtained under the subpoena, but Democrats defeated the effort in a party-line vote.

“As much as Democrats may hate the President, I would hope you love America more,” Buck said. “If love trumps hate, we should afford the (attorney general) time to redact classified information before providing us with a report that can be shared with the public.”

Nadler also authorized subpoenas for White House officials

In addition to the subpoena for the Mueller report and evidence, the committee was voting Wednesday to authorize subpoenas to five former White House officials.

The subpoenas were the first Nadler was moving forward with since he sent letters last month to 81 individuals and entities kicking off a widespread investigation into possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power.

Nadler said the subpoenas were being issued because the five former White House officials may have received documents in preparations for their interviews with the special counsel that Democrats believe are not protected by executive privilege.

“We also believe that these individuals may have turned this information over to their private attorneys,” Nadler said. “Under applicable federal law, President Trump waived his claims to executive privilege once this information was transmitted to outside counsel.

But Collins slammed the chairman for preparing subpoenas for individuals who have been cooperating with the committee, and seeking documents from them that were under control of the White House. In two cases, he said, the officials turned over documents already, and the other three have indicated a willingness to cooperate.

“The chairman is rewarding their cooperation by announcing their subpoenas before even notifying their lawyers,” Collins said.

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