What may be the most important of multiple collisions between House investigators and the Trump administration was at least temporarily avoided today as Jerrold Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee and the Department of Justice cut a deal over access to previously withheld Mueller report details, as the New York Times reports:
The Justice Department, after weeks of tense negotiations, has agreed to provide Congress with key evidence collected by Robert S. Mueller III that could shed light on possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power by President Trump, the House Judiciary Committee said on Monday.
The exact scope of the material the Justice Department has agreed to provide was not immediately clear, though the committee signaled that it could be a breakthrough after weeks of wrangling over those materials and others that the Judiciary panel demanded under subpoena. The Trump administration’s blockade of the material had ground the Democratic investigations of Mr. Trump’s possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power to a halt.
It appears the agreement will reach beyond the redacted sections of the Mueller report that have been a source of so much contention and include background materials such as witness interviews and White House documents cited in the report.
In a May 24 letter outlining a proposed compromise Mr. Nadler wrote that he was “prepared to prioritize production of materials that would provide the committee with the most insight into certain incidents when the special counsel found ‘substantial evidence’ of obstruction of justice.”
Those incidences include Mr. Trump’s attempts to fire Mr. Mueller, the special counsel; his request that Donald F. McGahn II, the former White House counsel, create “a fraudulent record denying that incident”; and Mr. Trump’s efforts to get former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to undo his recusal and curtail the scope of the special counsel inquiry.
For their part, Democrats have agreed to put on hold a pending vote by the full House to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for his refusal to answer a subpoena for these and other materials. There is also an informal understanding that the House won’t file a lawsuit to seek court enforcement of Nadler’s subpoena, though it’s more of a truce than a treaty:
“We have agreed to allow the department time to demonstrate compliance with this agreement. If the Department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need, then there will be no need to take further steps,” Mr. Nadler said. “If important information is held back, then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies.”
It’s not at all clear how this deal fits into the big picture of the struggle between House Democrats and the Trump administration. On the one hand, the administration may simply be executing a brief tactical retreat in its general strategy of stonewalling the House. On the other, the coerced deal shows that Democratic threats to move against Barr specifically and the administration generally on a potentially fruitful legal course of action — with an even greater implied threat of impeachment proceedings if that doesn’t work — can produce some results. What we don’t know yet is how much information Democrats will actually obtain through the kind of disclosures the Justice Department is now making. We do know that if there’s anything tantalizing in the Mueller investigation details, Team Trump will dismiss it as irrelevant or exonerating.