Congressional Democrats took legal action yesterday to see all of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s evidence from his inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, with an eye to using the probe’s findings against President Donald Trump.
US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, issued a subpoena to the Justice Department for Attorney General William Barr to hand over the full report by Mueller by May 1, saying that he cannot accept a redacted version released on Thursday that “leaves most of Congress in the dark”.
“My committee needs and is entitled to the full version of the report and the underlying evidence consistent with past practice. The redactions appear to be significant. We have so far seen none of the actual evidence that the Special Counsel developed to make this case,” Nadler said in a statement.
The report provided extensive details on Trump’s efforts to thwart Mueller’s investigation, giving Democrats plenty of political ammunition against the Republican president but no consensus on how to use it.
The 448-page document painted a clear picture of how Trump tried to hinder the probe.
It did not conclude that he had committed the crime of obstruction of justice, although it did not exonerate him.
The report blacked out details about secret grand jury information, US intelligence gathering and active criminal cases as well as potentially damaging information about peripheral players who were not charged.
Democratic leaders played down talk of impeachment of Trump just 18 months before the 2020 presidential election, even as some prominent members of the party’s progressive wing, most notably US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, promised to push the idea.
Former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Mueller also concluded there was not enough evidence to establish that Trump’s campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow to sway the 2016 election, a finding that has been was known since late March when Barr released a summary of what he described as Mueller’s principle conclusions.
Trump, who has repeatedly called the Mueller probe a political witch hunt, lashed out again yesterday.
“Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report...which are fabricated & totally untrue,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
He seemed to be referring to former White House counsel Don McGahn who was cited in the report as having annoyed Trump by taking notes of his conversations with the president.
“Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes’, when the notes never existed until needed,” Trump wrote. “It was not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the ‘Report’ about me, some of which are total (expletive) & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad).”
Phone conversations between the president and McGahn in June 2017 were a central part of Mueller’s depiction of Trump as trying to derail the Russia inquiry.
The report said Trump told McGahn to instruct the Justice Department to fire Mueller.
McGahn did not carry out the order.
In analysing whether Trump obstructed justice, Mueller revealed details about how the president tried to fire him and limit his investigation, kept details of a June 2016 meeting between senior campaign officials and a Russian under wraps, and possibly dangled a pardon to a former adviser.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said the Trump administration was not concerned about attempts by the Democrats to look further into whether Trump committed a crime by obstructing justice.
“We have no concerns, no worries whatsoever, because we already know how the book ends: no collusion,” Gidley told Fox News.
Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said that the Democrats’ subpoena “is wildly overbroad” and would jeopardise a grand jury’s investigations.
The Mueller inquiry laid bare what US intelligence agencies have described as a Russian campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord in the United States, denigrate 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Trump, the Kremlin’s preferred candidate.
Russia said yesterday that the report did not contain any evidence it had meddled in the election.
“We, as before, do not accept such allegations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated.
One paragraph in the report is at the heart of whether Mueller intended Congress to pursue further action against Trump, who could not be charged by the special counsel under a long-standing Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president.
“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 wrote.
Republican Collins said Democrats had misconstrued that section of the report to suit their anti-Trump agenda.
“There seems to be some confusion...This isn’t a matter of legal interpretation; it’s reading comprehension,” Collins wrote on Twitter. “The report doesn’t say Congress should investigate obstruction now. It says Congress can make laws about obstruction under Article I powers.”
Nadler told reporters on Thursday that Mueller probably wrote the report with the intent of providing Congress a road map for future action against the president, but the Democratic congressman said it was too early to talk about impeachment.
House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer on Thursday advised against an immediate attempt to impeach Trump.
“Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point. Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment,” Hoyer told CNN.
Only two US presidents have been impeached: Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 for firing his secretary of war in the tumultuous aftermath of the American Civil War.
Both were acquitted by the Senate and stayed in office.
In 1974, a House committee approved articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal but he resigned before the full House voted on impeachment.
Short of attempting impeachment, Democratic lawmakers can use the details of Mueller’s report to fuel several inquiries already underway by congressional committees into the Russia allegations, Trump’s businesses and alleged abuse of power by the president.
Half a dozen former Trump aides, including former 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort, were charged by Mueller’s office or convicted of crimes during his 22-month-long investigation.
The Mueller inquiry spawned a number of other criminal probes by federal prosecutors in New York and elsewhere.
Prosecutors are looking into hush money payments made to two women who said they had sex with Trump, the finances of the president’s inaugural committee and other matters unrelated to Trump.
A survey conducted from Thursday afternoon to yesterday morning, the first national survey to measure the response from the American public after the release of the Mueller Report, found that 37% of adults in the US approved of Trump’s performance in office, down from 40% in a similar poll conducted on April 15 and matching the lowest level of the year.
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