Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are split over how aggressive they should be in their quest to get the full report of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, along with any investigative materials that went into its preparation.
On Wednesday, the panel will vote — probably along party lines — to authorize its chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), to subpoena the full report from Attorney General William P. Barr. Nadler is not expected to turn around and issue that subpoena to Barr straightaway, giving the attorney general at least a few days to hustle the report to Capitol Hill before resorting to legal measures and a potential court battle in an attempt to force his hand.
But many panel Democrats do not share Nadler’s patience and want the chairman to serve Barr with a summons for the report right away.
“We ought to do it immediately,” said panel member Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), reasoning that “it’s going to be a long legal battle anyway. I’m for starting things and moving them along.”
The split in the party is the latest example of internal challenges Democratic leaders face as they attempt to strike a balance between rank-and-file members itching for a head-on fight with Trump and those worried about pursuing methods that might be considered too partisan. A month ago, the party was wrestling with similar factions over whether to attempt impeachment; with those questions now largely tabled in the wake of the Mueller investigation, similar tensions are cropping up in disputes over the best tactics to pursue.
Last month, House Democrats gave Barr a deadline of Tuesday to turn over the full Mueller report. Barr responded to that demand in a letter last week, stating that he would provide members with a redacted copy of the report by mid-April, if not sooner.
That hasn’t sat well with lawmakers, who voted 420 to 0 last month to urge Barr to release the entirety of the report to the public, while still making redacted portions available to lawmakers. On Monday, the Democratic chairs of the six House panels investigating aspects of Trump’s campaign, finances and alleged foreign ties sent a joint letter to Barr, warning him that “while we hope to avoid resort to compulsory process, if the Department is unwilling to produce the report to Congress in unredacted form, then we will have little choice but to take such action.”
They did not specify how much more time they were prepared to give him, stating only that they expected Barr to move expeditiously to secure whatever court clearances were necessary to give them full access to the report “without further delay” and “now.”
For those Democrats supportive of the leaders’ strategy, approving a subpoena for the report, even if it is not immediately issued, is an important signal to send to Barr that Congress won’t accept a half-redacted report — without touching off a legal process that might give the Justice Department an excuse to drag out the process.
“We are putting in place a number of pieces that should allow us to get the report quickly and in full,” Judiciary Committee member Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said, pointing out that the public would follow up on the subpoena authorization vote with “nationwide protests” calling on Barr to release the full Mueller document.
But for others, any delay in enforcing Democrats’ deadline is giving Barr more leeway than he deserves.
“The AG was given a deadline by our committee, and the request was very plain and simple. . . . I would like to see the subpoena issued right away,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.), another member of the Judiciary panel.