WASHINGTON – In an effort to avoid a scheduled Wednesday vote on whether or not to hold U.S. Attorney General William Barr in Congressional contempt for defying a subpoena issued by House Democrats to turn over complete and un-redacted evidence from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election, Justice Department representatives today offered lawmakers a potential compromise they hope will be an acceptable alternative. However, time will quickly tell if this will be the case, as the offer reportedly falls short of the demands made in the subpoena, and may thus prove to be inadequate to stave off the contempt vote for the nation’s top lawman.
As opposed to full and unfettered access to the entirety of the Mueller report – without any redactions at all – Justice Department representatives have offered Congress accesses instead to a “less-redacted” version, in addition to allowing a specific group of 12 Congress members to make and retain hand-written notes based on the findings of the less-redacted report. Also, each Congress member would be permitted to be accompanied by two members of their staff that would be allowed to view the less-redacted report as well, presumably to assist their respective lawmakers with note-taking – the Mueller report is a whopping 448 pages – in the timeframe in which they are allotted.
If the subpoena, issued by the House Judiciary Committee, is not adhered to and the Justice Department’s compromise proves insufficient for Democrats, Barr faces the consequences of a potential contempt vote Wednesday; the results could go so far as seeing the Attorney General fined or even the Congressional Sergeant-at-Arms – an officer of the House with law enforcement, protocol, and administrative responsibilities – actually placing Barr under arrest until he complies with the subpoena. Neither of these outcomes are realistic, however, with a Congressional contempt charge more than likely fueling a lawsuit over the release of the un-redacted report that would eventually wind up in the Supreme Court.
“The Attorney General’s failure to comply with our subpoena, after extensive accommodation efforts, leaves us no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings in order to enforce the subpoena and access the full, un-redacted report,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) noted in a statement released on Monday.
Barr had previously released a heavily-redacted version of the report, which Democratic Congress members balked at; however, the omission of heavily-classified information that could place ongoing investigations or informants at-risk is the norm when it comes to reports of this type that are released to the public. In addition, Barr has cited regulations that prohibit releasing grand jury material to members of Congress. But Democrats have nonetheless argued in favor of the release of a fully-un-redacted report to the public in order to ensure transparency, and called a previous 4-page summary Barr supplied by Bar prior to the release of the redacted report as mischaracterizing the findings of the extensive 2-year investigation.
Republicans, meanwhile, have argued that the findings of the report – that neither President Donald Trump not any members of his campaign conspired with Russia in order to influence the results of the 2016 election – would not be changed if an un-redacted version were released, rendering the security risks associated with its full release unwarranted. In addition, Barr had stated that both he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had determined that insufficient evidence exists to prove that Trump committed obstruction while the investigation was being carried out – an assertion supported by many Republicans – although Democratic lawmakers have disagreed with Barr’s finding in that regard.
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The report was authorizing by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on May 17, 2017, and upon completion was submitted to Attorney General William Barr on March 22, 2019; a redacted version of the 448-page report was publicly released by the Department of Justice on April 18, 2019. The Mueller report concluded that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election occurred “in sweeping and systematic fashion” and “violated U.S. criminal law”. It listed methods by which Russia attempted to influence the election, including a social media campaign which supported Trump and attacked the Hillary Clinton, as well as Russian intelligence GRU computer hacking and dissemination of strategic and damaging material stolen from the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations.