WASHINGTON ― House Republicans, who demanded access to extensive raw investigative material in the Hillary Clinton email probe and internal deliberations about the start of the Russia investigation, have changed their tune about the need for Justice Department transparency ahead of the expected release of the gist of Robert Mueller’s special counsel report.
As Washington eagerly awaits a public report from Attorney General William Barr on the “principal conclusions” of Mueller’s findings on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Republicans were laying the groundwork to keep any of the investigative material turned up by the probe out of the hands of House Democrats.
“It’s not the Department of Justice’s job to give” Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and the House Judiciary Committee that he chairs “what they want [to] go off on a purely partisan investigation that could lead towards impeachment,” Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the committee’s ranking GOP member, said on Fox News on Sunday.
“I believe that we need to protect the innocent here, but to the extent that we cannot sacrifice national security interests and release as much information as possible, I certainly support that,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told CNN.
“Typically, prosecutors do not release information that would be harmful to the innocent,” Meadows said. “We need to make sure that we protect the innocent here.”
“The Mueller report... we can just burn it up. It is a partisan document,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News.
Ken Starr, the independent counsel who dogged President Bill Clinton, wrote a piece in The Atlantic calling on Mueller to remain quiet and not produce a public report.
Barr has told Congress that concerns over President Donald Trump’s right to privacy could limit what the Justice Department discloses about the Mueller investigation. In a letter, he pointed to department regulations that call for prosecutors “to be sensitive to the privacy and reputational interests of uncharged third parties” and “not to criticize individuals for conduct that does not warrant prosecution.”
A potential complication is a longstanding DOJ opinion that holds that federal prosecutors can’t indict the president. If the Mueller report indicates that Trump would have been indicted but for being the president, legal experts say the department couldn’t justify holding that information back.
“If it’s that momentous ― if it’s, ‘We believe the president engaged in conduct that would have led to criminal charges were he not the president’ ― obviously that has to go to Congress,” former DOJ congressional liaison Ron Weich told HuffPost. “The only reason he can’t be indicted is because the remedy is, in Congress, impeachment. That’s the basis for the department policy that he can’t be indicted, that’s there’s another remedy in the Constitution.”