House panel to receive Mueller-probe material
Justice Department agrees to a deal
WASHINGTON — After weeks of negotiations, the Justice Department has agreed to provide Congress with key evidence collected by special counsel Robert Mueller that House Judiciary Committee members said could shed light on whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice or abused his power.
The exact scope of the material the Justice Department has agreed to provide was not immediately clear, but the committee signaled Monday that it was a breakthrough after weeks of wrangling over demands made by the judiciary panel, which had issued a subpoena.
The announcement appeared to provide a rationale for House Democrats’ decision, announced last week, to back away from threats to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress. The House still plans to proceed today with a vote on whether to empower the Judiciary Committee to take Barr to court to fully enforce its subpoena, but even that may no longer be necessary, the panel’s leader said.
The House has scheduled today’s vote to decide
whether to authorize lawsuits against Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn for failing to comply with subpoenas from the Democratic-controlled House. The vote could put the full House on record as approving the lawsuits, if leaders and committees decide they want to move forward with them.
“We have agreed to allow the department time to demonstrate compliance with this agreement. If the Department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need, then there will be no need to take further steps,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the committee chairman, said in a statement. “If important information is held back, then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies.”
Nadler said he expected the department to begin sharing some of the material Monday afternoon and that all members of the committee would be able to view it privately.
The agreement appears to have been foreshadowed in an exchange of letters in recent weeks between the committee and the department. In a May 24 letter outlining a proposed compromise, Nadler wrote that he was “prepared to prioritize production of materials that would provide the committee with the most insight into certain incidents when the special counsel found ‘substantial evidence’ of obstruction of justice.”
Those include allegations that Trump attempted to fire Mueller; requested that McGahn create “a fraudulent record denying that incident”; and tried to get former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to undo his recusal and curtail the scope of the special counsel inquiry.
“We are pleased the committee has agreed to set aside its contempt resolution and is returning to the traditional accommodation process,” Justice Department spokesman Kerri Kupec said. “The Department of Justice remains committed to appropriately accommodating Congress’ legitimate interests
related to the special counsel’s investigation and will continue to do so provided the previously voted-upon resolution does not advance.”
Republicans cheered the agreement. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said that “today’s good faith provision from the administration further debunks claims that the White House is stonewalling Congress.”
News of the deal came just hours before the committee convened the first in a series of hearings focused on the findings of Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation. Monday’s session featured John Dean, a former White House counsel who turned against President Richard Nixon during the Watergate affair, and former federal prosecutors who assessed the implications of the special counsel’s findings. The testimony was limited to the contents of Mueller’s 448-page report that were voluntarily made public by Barr.
Dean testified that Mueller has provided Congress with a “road map” for investigating Trump, and he said he saw parallels between Mueller’s findings and those of congressional investigators looking into Nixon’s administration decades ago. He alleged there were similarities in the way the presidents used their pardon power in an attempt to influence witness testimony, as well as in their efforts to seize control of investigations and direct the efforts of prosecutors.
“I’m clearly not a fact witness, but I hope I can give them some context and show them how strikingly like Watergate what we’re seeing now … is,” Dean said.
Trump later responded, tweeting: “Can’t believe they are bringing in John Dean, the disgraced Nixon White House Counsel who is a paid CNN contributor. No Collusion — No Obstruction! Democrats just want a do-over which they’ll never get!”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (left), D-N.Y., confers with Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel, as Democrats convene a hearing on special counsel Robert Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation.