The public and members of Congress will be in the dark for at least one more day on special counsel Robert Mueller’s central conclusions about contacts between associates of President Donald Trump and Russia during the 2016 campaign.
The Justice Department informed Congress on Saturday afternoon that Attorney General William Barr would not provide findings to lawmakers until at least Sunday, officials at Justice and on Capitol Hill confirmed, prolonging rampant speculation about what might be in Mueller’s report and fueling Democrats’ increasingly urgent pleas to release the entire document.
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However, Barr, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and their top aides were at Justice Department headquarters Saturday poring over Mueller’s submission and considering how to boil down the core conclusions into a summary that can be made public before officials embark on a review of the whole document, an official said.
Access to Mueller’s report has been limited to “very few” individuals, a Justice official said, in part out of concern about leaks of one of the most politically sensitive documents in modern American history.
Democrats huddled on Saturday to strategize about how to talk about the as-yet-unseen report and how to force the Justice Department to make it public — a possible drag-out legal fight that could consume Washington for months.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi hosted a conference call with House Democrats on Saturday afternoon to discuss the report’s impending arrival. According to multiple sources who participated in the call, Pelosi said she would reject an offer for a classified briefing on Mueller’s underlying findings, arguing that the evidence should be unclassified despite DOJ guidelines that state the department should not disclose damaging information about individuals who are not indicted.
House Democratic committee chairs repeatedly referred to Republicans’ efforts to disclose documents related to other former top officials who were not indicted, including Hillary Clinton and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, when they controlled the House during the first two years of the Trump presidency.
Separately, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Republicans’ efforts during that time period to force the public release of elements of the Russia probe — as well as the investigation of Clinton’s email server — had armed Democrats with an argument to require significant disclosure of the Mueller findings.
“Republicans have really shot themselves in the foot with what they approved,” Jayapal said. “They really undermined any argument Barr might want to make that there’s longstanding precedent.”
In a letter to lawmakers Saturday afternoon, Pelosi dismissed Barr’s plan to summarize the findings for the relevant committees as “insufficient” and said any briefings on the report should be unclassified so members are free to share the details publicly.
“We are insisting that any briefings to any committees be unclassified so that members can speak freely about every aspect of the report and not be confined to what DOJ chooses to release publicly,” Pelosi wrote.
Pelosi also reiterated that DOJ should release the report in its entirety and related documents, “even if DOJ chooses not to prosecute additional individuals.”
“Congress requires the full report and the underlying documents so that the Committees can proceed with their independent work, including oversight and legislating to address any issues the Mueller report may raise,” she wrote.
Democrats have also expressed concern that the Justice Department’s sifting of the report for public consumption could be influenced by the White House. Justice officials confirmed that they alerted the White House to the receipt of the report just before congressional leaders were notified Friday afternoon.
However, a Justice spokesperson insisted that the only information conveyed was the brief letter also sent to lawmakers. Officials have declined to say whether they plan to vet future disclosures from Mueller’s report with the White House, although such consultations over executive privilege issues are typical.
Asked Saturday whether Justice Department leaders were “plotting” with the White House to stage manage release of more information about Mueller’s probe, a Justice official who asked not to be named said: “No, that’s ridiculous.”
While they await answers, the leaders of House committees who oversee the Justice Department and intelligence community have signaled they’re prepared to unleash aggressive tactics to compel Barr to make the details of the report public.
“If the AG plays any games, we will subpoena the report, ask Mr. Mueller to testify, and take it all to court if necessary,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, a comment echoed by committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
That could include issuing a subpoena that could plunge the two branches of government into a protracted court fight — and potentially demanding that Mueller himself testify publicly after nearly two years of operating in virtual secrecy.
“We’re potentially looking at a classic collision of Congress’s constitutional authority to investigate with the preferences of the executive branch to, in this case, to potentially withhold information from Congress. That is an issue that will have to be decided by a court if that’s how it evolves,” said David Laufman, who ran the Justice Department’s counter-intelligence unit from 2014 to 2018 and had a key role overseeing both the Clinton and Russia investigations.
Republicans were circling the wagons around Trump, noting that Mueller did not drop new indictments as he wrapped up his nearly two-year-long probe. But Democrats cautioned that Mueller was not the end-all-be-all, noting that Congress is still investigating allegations of obstruction of justice and abuse of power on the president’s part, and that other federal and state entities are conducting probes into several aspects of the Trumpworld.
“It’s the end of the beginning, it’s not the beginning of the end,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It’s important to remember that whatever is concluded by Robert Mueller doesn’t mean that the president and his core team are free of legal jeopardy from these other proceedings. And it’s important to remember that the Congress has a different scope of charge and responsibility than Special Counsel Mueller.”
But most lawmakers tempered their comments as they awaited word from Barr about what level of detail he intends to share with Congress and the public this weekend.
Barr’s decision carries enormous consequences for the Trump administration and the new Democratic House majority, which is wrestling with outspoken members eager to impeach Trump and is in the early stages of a crush of sensitive investigations of Trump and his administration. Democrats are also acutely aware of the dicey politics of probing a combative president.
Coloring the debate is the news that Mueller is not recommending any new indictments, a determination that has emboldened Trump, who has long claimed the investigation was a “witch hunt.” It’s unclear whether word that Mueller isn’t urging additional charges precludes the possibility that he obtained some indictments that remain sealed.
Mueller is also known to have referred or handed off responsibility for some matters to federal prosecutors in New York, Virginia and Washington, D.C., but the full extent and status of such spinoff probes has never been made public.
Republicans have emphasized that even though they, too, want much of the report to be public, Democrats seem to be demanding that the Justice Department reveal derogatory information about Mueller’s witnesses even if they’re not charged with a crime. Rosenstein has previously suggested the Justice Department would not take such a step, especially given the backlash after former FBI Director James Comey publicly disparaged Clinton in 2016 even while declining to recommend charges against her for her use of a private email server.
Democrats, though, say Mueller’s report may contain crucial counterintelligence information that shows links and alliances between Trump associates and Russian operatives, information that could be crucial to future efforts to protect American elections from foreign interference.
And they also have raised concerns that even if Mueller’s report found criminal wrongdoing by the president, a longstanding Justice Department policy against indicting sitting presidents could preclude the details from becoming public.
“To be clear, if the Special Counsel has reason to believe that the President has engaged in criminal or other serious misconduct, then the Justice Department has an obligation not to conceal such information,” Schiff, Nadler and other committee chairmen said in a late Friday statement. “The President must be subject to accountability and if the Justice Department is unable to do so, then the need to provide Congress with the relevant information is paramount.”
Trump spent much of the day golfing at Trump International Golf Club, just a few miles from Mar-a-Lago. He golfed with three other people, though the White House refused to identify his partners.
White House officials said the president was in a good mood. So far, Trump has not reacted publicly to the news that Mueller has completed his investigation. And aides said the White House has not yet been briefed on the contents of Mueller’s report.
White House officials remained largely in wait-and-see mode, even though they believe the final report will be a flop.
It was an unusually low-key response for a president known for indignant Twitter outbursts. But people close to the president predicted it wouldn’t last long.
Trump’s friends and advisers have also been privately assuring him that the report is going to be a flop and that he can spin the whole endeavor as a politically motivated waste of time. But it remains to be seen what the report might actually say — and if it’s worse than the president’s allies think, Trump could react with fury.
By Saturday afternoon, Trump had retreated back to Mar-a-Lago, his private club. He’s not expected to make any public appearances for the rest of the day.
As his client and the country awaited the Mueller report’s findings, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was seen on Saturday shopping at a downtown D.C. Brooks Brothers, according to an eyewitness.
Andrew Restuccia, Darren Samuelsohn and Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.