Steve Bannon among five senior White House aides to be quizzed
The Democratic-led US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to authorise subpoenas for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full, unredacted report and underlying evidence from his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
The 24-17 vote along party lines – with Democrats in favour and President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans opposed – authorised the panel’s chairman, Jerrold Nadler, to subpoena Mr Mueller’s material. The measure also authorised Mr Nadler, a Democrat, to subpoena documents and testimony from five former Trump aides, including former political adviser Steve Bannon and former White House Counsel Donald McGahn.
The committee vote escalated congressional pressure on Attorney General William Barr to hand over all that Mr Mueller documented during his 22-month probe, including grand jury evidence.
The committee’s focus shifted to subpoenas when it became clear that Mr Barr would ignore a Democratic demand for him to turn over the full report by April 2. Mr Barr has pledged to release the nearly 400-page report by mid-April, but with certain portions blacked out for reasons such as protecting secret grand jury information and intelligence-gathering sources and methods.
Democrats have expressed concern Mr Barr, a Trump appointee, could use redactions to suppress evidence of potential misconduct by the president and his campaign.
“The Trump administration has an idea. They want to redact the Mueller report before they provide it to Congress,” Mr Nadler said at a committee meeting before the vote. “This committee has a job to do. That job requires us to evaluate the evidence for ourselves.”
Representative Doug Collins, the committee’s top Republican, said Mr Nadler took the action because Democrats are “desperate for dirt on this president”.
“This is reckless. It’s irresponsible. And it’s disingenuous,” Mr Collins said. “It’s also confusing since the attorney general is doing exactly what he said he would be doing: making as much of the report public as possible under federal law and departmental policy.”
Mr Barr’s March 24 letter to lawmakers explaining Mr Mueller’s “principal conclusions” said the special counsel did not establish that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia during the election but also did not exonerate Mr Trump on obstruction of justice.
Mr Barr himself subsequently concluded that Mr Mueller’s inquiry had not found sufficient evidence to warrant criminal obstruction charges against Mr Trump.
Mr Trump has denied collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice. Moscow denied election interference. Mr Mueller and US intelligence agencies concluded Russia used a campaign of hacking and propaganda to harm Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Mr Trump.
In addition to Mr McGahn and Mr Bannon, the committee authorised subpoenas for former White House communications director Hope Hicks, former chief of staff Reince Priebus and former White House deputy counsel Ann Donaldson.
Mr Priebus declined to comment. William Burck, a lawyer for Mr Priebus, Mr Bannon and Mr McGahn, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Issuing subpoenas would open a new legal front against the Trump administration by Democrats, who won control of the House in last year’s congressional elections. The potential battle between the executive branch and the legislative branch over the subpoenas could end up being waged in the federal government’s third branch – the judiciary.
The Justice Department declined to comment. It was not clear how likely the department would be to hand over the documents. It could ignore a subpoena, running the risk of being held in contempt of Congress, and prepare for a potentially lengthy court battle. Democrats have pledged to fight all the way to the US Supreme Court to enforce a subpoena. “If the department still refuses, then it should be up to a judge to decide whether it is appropriate for the committee to review the complete record,” Mr Nadler said.