mueller time

Mueller Report Subpoena Fight Is the First Skirmish in a Long War to Come

House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler needs some forward momentum after the Mueller report dropped. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Now that a redacted Mueller report has finally gone public, the next stage in the fight over the president’s dodgy and quite possibly criminal behavior moves to Congress and maybe the courts. During the preceding week, a big preoccupation among House Democrats was forcing William Barr and the Justice Department to minimize redactions in the report and ensure that at least Congress would have access to an unredacted version. Barr has been offering to make available in the very near future a “minimally redacted” version to select must-see members of Congress, arguing that a court order would be necessary to disclose one area of redactions, material from grand jury proceedings.

This murky struggle over document access is continuing after the release of the public version, as the New York Times reports:

Mr. Nadler rejected [Barr’s] proposed accommodation as insufficient on Friday.

He has repeatedly asked the Justice Department to join him in requesting that a court unseal the grand jury information, in particular, for Congress to review privately. Mr. Barr, in turn, has so far rejected that request, and Republicans have backed him up, arguing in effect that the Judiciary Committee is not entitled to such information unless the House authorizes a formal impeachment inquiry.

“I am open to working with the department to reach a reasonable accommodation for access to these materials,” Mr. Nadler said, “however I cannot accept any proposal which leaves most of Congress in the dark, as they grapple with their duties of legislation, oversight and constitutional accountability.”

And so, as threatened, Nadler has issued subpoenas for the full report and all the supporting evidence, as the Washington Post explains:

Earlier this month, the committee authorized its chairman, Nadler, to subpoena Mueller’s report and the investigation’s underlying documents from Barr.

The subpoena requests that Barr turn over the documents by May 1 at 10 a.m.

The date is significant, as the Times notes:

Mr. Nadler’s May 1 deadline falls a day before Mr. Barr is scheduled to testify publicly before the Judiciary Committee in what is expected to be an explosive session where Democrats plan to excoriate Mr. Barr’s handling of the report and Republicans will urge their colleagues to accept that there was no criminality and move on.

At the same time, of course, Nadler is also making plans to secure an appearance by Robert Mueller himself before his committee.

That broader context is important to understand. The anticipatory fury over redactions was abated somewhat when the report came out: most of them were in sections of the report involving illegal activities by Russian nationals that did not appear to involve Trump campaign figures, and there were few redactions in the long passages on obstruction of justice. But still, Democrats feel, what you don’t know is important, and even in areas without redactions, the underlying evidence contained in subpoenaed documents could be very important.

Republicans, of course, want to “move on,” either to Trump’s preferred thematics of his own power and glory and Democratic evil, or to vengeful investigations of the FBI, the Obama administration, and Hillary Clinton. And Nadler and the House Democratic leadership need to show some forward momentum on investigations of Trump, with the questions raised by Mueller being the obvious starting point.

There’s also no question Nadler and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi need to get control of rapidly intensifying sentiment among members, and particularly among grassroots Democrats, that Mueller Time should now yield to Impeachment Time. They’ve both been skeptical about the political wisdom of going in that direction while keeping the door open to it if dismay at Trump’s behavior spreads far enough to put pressure on Republicans to stop defending him. The emotions surrounding the Mueller report could kick that door wide open.

Mueller Report Subpoena Fight First Skirmish in Long War