WASHINGTON — Now that the bulk of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report is public, what happens next?
Mueller ran his investigation largely as a fact-finding mission focused on two subjects: conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, and possible obstruction-of-justice by President Trump. While Mueller did not uncover conclusive proof of a Trump-Russia criminal conspiracy, he did find ample evidence to suggest Trump tried to obstruct justice by interfering with or trying to shut down the Russia investigation.
The obstruction volume of Mueller’s report ends with a rhetorical baton pass to Congress: We dug up all these facts. It’s your constitutional duty to decide what happens next.
As the spotlight shifts from Mueller’s investigation to Capitol Hill, here’s what to expect in the days and weeks to come.
What are Democrats doing to obtain the unredacted report?
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, announced Friday morning that he’d issued a subpoena to Department of Justice for the “full,” unredacted Mueller report, as well as the underlying evidence Mueller and his team used to write it. “Even the redacted version of the report outlines serious instances of wrongdoing by President Trump and some of his closest associates,” Nadler said in a statement. “It now falls to Congress to determine the full scope of that alleged misconduct and to decide what steps we must take going forward.”
An analysis by Vox found that 7.25 percent of the Mueller report released Thursday was redacted. The two most heavily redacted sections detailed Russia’s “active measures” social-media campaign to sow chaos in the 2016 election and Russia’s hacking operation targeting the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign.
Nadler gave the DOJ a deadline of May 1st to comply with the subpoena. Attorney General William Barr wrote in a letter to Congress on Thursday that he would give a Congress a less-redacted version of the report — but with grand-jury information still blacked out. Nadler insists that Congress has the right to see the grand-jury material. At this point, the fight over the full report is headed for a courtroom.
What will Mueller tell Congress?
Attorney General Barr is scheduled to testify before the House and Senate during the first week of May. But after Barr’s nakedly partisan attempt to spin the redacted Mueller report ahead of its release on Thursday morning, those hearings will likely focus more on Barr’s efforts to play defense for Trump than on the actual work of the special counsel’s office.
To get answers about the report itself, Democratic leaders in Congress have announced they want Mueller himself to testify before Congress about his findings. “AG Barr has confirmed the staggering partisan effort by the Trump Admin to spin public’s view of the #MuellerReport — complete with acknowledgment that the Trump team received a sneak preview,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tweeted Thursday. “It’s more urgent than ever that Special Counsel Mueller testify before Congress.”
AG Barr has confirmed the staggering partisan effort by the Trump Admin to spin public’s view of the #MuellerReport – complete with acknowledgment that the Trump team received a sneak preview. It’s more urgent than ever that Special Counsel Mueller testify before Congress. https://t.co/waoGzLntlt
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) April 18, 2019
What might the famously tight-lipped Mueller tell Congress? The former FBI director surely won’t discuss anything involving an ongoing investigation or a criminal referral that is now with another law enforcement office. But he might shed more light on why the special counsel’s office decided it would not — or could not — make a prosecutorial judgment on possible obstruction of justice crimes committed by Trump. He could also explain why his office declined to prosecute Donald Trump Jr. for potential campaign finance violations related to the June 9th, 2016, Trump Tower meeting.
What about impeachment?
Mueller’s report makes clear that the special counsel did not set out to find if Trump engaged in crimes by obstructing justice. The report instead outlines all the ways Trump might have committed obstruction crimes and leaves the larger constitutional decisions to Congress. “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” Mueller writes.
In other words: We did our part. Congress, you can take it from here.
The question now hanging over Congress is whether the evidence marshaled by Mueller merits impeaching the president. Did Trump commit high crimes and misdemeanors when he tried to impede the Russia investigation and the work of the special counsel?
That’s for Congress — and especially senior House Democrats such as Speaker Pelosi and Judiciary Chairman Nadler — to weigh in the coming weeks. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the number-two Democrat in the House, told CNN after the report’s release that “based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point.” But after an outcry from liberal activists, Hoyer partially backtracked, saying “all options ought to remain on the table” for Congress and the public to “have all the info they need to know the truth.”
Nadler, for his part, refused to rule out impeachment, but wouldn’t go further. “That’s one possibility,” he told reporters. “It’s too early to reach those conclusions.”