Just when it was beginning to look like the Trump administration’s policy of stonewalling House Democrats on investigatory demands might be producing irresistible momentum for impeachment proceedings, the Department of Justice reached a tentative cooperation deal with House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff to provide access to subpoenaed Mueller report materials. In exchange, Schiff will suspend plans to pursue enforcement actions (and presumably a lawsuit) for its subpoena, in contrast to the Judiciary Committee, which has been stymied in its own efforts to secure the full Mueller report. The Washington Post explains the deal and its limitations:
The House Intelligence Committee will not enforce a subpoena against Attorney General William P. Barr as planned Wednesday, after the Justice Department agreed at the 11th hour to produce the redacted material and underlying information from the special counsel’s report that the panel sought, albeit more slowly than it wanted.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee’s chairman, announced the deal in a statement Wednesday morning. He warned that the subpoena “will remain in effect and will be enforced should the Department fail to comply with the full document request.”
Schiff added that he expects the “initial production” of providing the committee with 12 categories of counterintelligence and foreign intelligence material from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of election interference by Russia would “be completed by the end of next week.”
It looks like a play-it-as-you-go kind of deal, in which Justice Department parcels out drib and drabs of information while Schiff tries to keep the pressure up. It appears the Intelligence Committee’s superior legal position with respect to counterintelligence data contained in part one of the Mueller report is what constrained Barr’s people to cut the deal, though a divide-and-conquer strategy toward House Democrats by the administration is another possibility. The New York Times notes the contrast in the treatment of House subpoenas:
The détente — however long it lasts — stands in sharp contrast to relations between the Justice Department and the House Judiciary Committee, where tensions over a similar subpoena for Mr. Mueller’s full report and evidence quickly escalated. Unable to reach an accommodation, the Judiciary Committee moved this month to hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress and President Trump invoked executive privilege, walling off the materials they wanted for an investigation into obstruction of justice and abuse of power.
The Intelligence Committee appears to be getting material that was not subject to the privilege claim. As one of two congressional bodies charged with overseeing American intelligence agencies, it has strong legal claims on such counterintelligence and intelligence information, and in this case, the Democrats requesting the material had the support of Republicans on the committee.
The broader dynamics of the situation are pretty clear. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s much-repeated reluctance to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump has come under intense pressure from members of her caucus convinced that impeachment may provide the only lever by which investigation of the administration — the central task for House Democrats in this session — can overcome administration stonewalling. The Hill suggests she’s near a tipping point in which she might back down and let impeachment proceed:
[A]t least 25 Democrats are now on record supporting the start of proceedings to oust Trump. Highlighting the headache for Pelosi, the list includes several committee chairs and members of the Speaker’s own leadership team.
The new calls for impeachment grew noisy enough on Tuesday that Democratic leaders have scheduled a closed-door meeting of the caucus on Wednesday morning — the second of the week. The gathering is designed to give rank-and-file members an update on the party’s oversight and investigative efforts.
Supporters of the impeachment movement sense a tipping point in the debate — one they’re only happy to embrace.
Schiff’s deal could give Pelosi a reprieve and turn down the heat for immediate impeachment proceedings. If, on the other hand, it becomes apparent Barr and the White House are just playing rope-a-dope in hopes of keeping House Democrats off-balance without really acceding to their demands, the atmosphere could quickly become more antagonistic than ever.