WASHINGTON — Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee teed up a set of subpoenas Wednesday morning with an eye toward obtaining a full, unredacted copy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on 2016 election interference and any conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. The subpoenas would also cover any supporting evidence — including grand jury testimony.
The committee voted along party lines, 24 to 17, to authorize subpoenas for the full report and documents from five former Trump White House employees, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus, adviser Steve Bannon and communications director Hope Hicks.
It is now up to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, to decide if and when he will issue the subpoenas approved on Wednesday. After the vote, Nadler told reporters that the committee would work “for a short period of time” with Attorney General William Barr, the third AG under President Trump, to obtain the unredacted Mueller report. But if those negotiations fail to work out “in a very short order,” Nadler said, he’ll issue subpoenas.
“The committee must see everything, as was done in every prior instance,” he added, referring to past instances of independent counsel investigations.
Nadler emphasized that the first step was for Congress to secure the full report without redactions and all supporting evidence. After lawmakers reviewed the material and settled on what next steps to take, he said, they would decide what redactions were necessary before the report was released to the American public.
Republicans on the committee uniformly opposed Nadler’s move to authorize the subpoenas. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, said the move was merely a fishing expedition by Democrats to surface new, damning information about Trump and an exercise in “oversight by press release.” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), one of the Trumpiest members of the modern Republican Party, said the vote was the “death rattle of the Democrats’ Russia collusion lie.”
On Tuesday, Trump struck a defiant tone during an Oval Office press conference when asked about House Democrats’ efforts to acquire the Mueller report. “Anything we give them will never be enough,” he said. “They will always come back and say it’s not enough.”
Barr told Nadler last week to expect to receive a redacted copy of the report by “mid-April, if not sooner.” Barr described four categories of information that could be redacted in the version of the report the Justice Department eventually sends to Congress: grand jury material, information that national security experts say could reveal “sensitive sources and methods,” information that could affect other ongoing investigations and information that “would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests” of peripheral figures mentioned in the report.
Nadler, however, insists that nothing short of the full report without a single redaction — as well as the underlying evidence — will meet his demand.
“The Constitution charges Congress with holding the president accountable for alleged misconduct,” he said in his opening statement. “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 underlying evidence.”
He went on, “The department is wrong to try to withhold that information from this committee. Congress is entitled to all of the evidence. This isn’t just my opinion. It is also a matter of law.”
Should Nadler subpoena the material, the action would possibly lead to a fight between Congress and the executive branch, positioning a federal judge to make the final decision on what can and cannot be released.