WASHINGTON ― The Justice Department’s recent decision to provide Congress with a wide range of documents surrounding the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails will increase pressure on DOJ to be fully transparent about Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into President Donald Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Attorney General William Barr is reviewing Mueller’s confidential full report and is expected to inform Congress about its principal conclusions in the coming days. But Democrats and Republicans want Barr to release the full thing, and the House recently voted unanimously ― 420 to 0 ― for the Justice Department to release Mueller’s full report.
Barr told Congress that concerns over Trump’s privacy could limit the information he makes public. Given Barr’s broad view of executive privilege, he’s also likely to abide by any claims the White House makes that portions of the report should be withheld.
But the Justice Department has recently provided Congress with extensive access to materials about the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. Some of the materials ― such as text messages exchanged between two officials involved in the Clinton investigation as well as the Russia probe ― have provided fodder for Republicans seeking to help Trump undermine the Mueller investigation. The Justice Department’s recent unprecedented disclosures have included Clinton investigation 302s (records of FBI interviews) as well as Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders connected to the Russia investigation.
Ron Weich, a former Justice Department congressional liaison who is now dean of the University of Baltimore’s law school, said that he thinks the full report will ultimately end up in congressional hands.
“There are plenty of precedents where the public interest outweighs the concerns,” Weich told HuffPost. “In this case, the public interest is overwhelming.”
That will especially be true if Mueller’s report suggests that Trump committed conduct that would have led to his indictment if not for the Justice Department’s restrictions on charging a sitting president.
There are plenty of precedents where the public interest outweighs the concerns. In this case, the public interest is overwhelming.
Ron Weich, former Justice Department congressional liaison
“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,” Weich said. “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.”
Former Attorney General Eric Holder agrees. “If the Mueller Report contains evidence about impeachable conduct/offenses that, at a minimum, must be shared with Congress,” he tweeted Friday. “It would be irresponsible for DOJ to hold on to this kind of information – for any reason. No privilege claim would be valid.”
Weich pointed to a few additional examples of cases in which DOJ provided material about cases that didn’t result in an indictment: The Justice Department provided extensive information about the decision not to indict the officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; the investigation into “enhanced interrogation” by the CIA; and the investigation of former IRS official Lois Lerner.
Beyond just seeing Mueller’s final report, Democrats are eager to obtain the raw investigative material that the special counsel compiled. A statement from the chairs of six House committees ― Judiciary, Oversight, Intelligence, Financial Services, Ways and Means, and Foreign Affairs ― asked for Mueller to turn over everything he’s got.
“Consistent with the Justice Department’s past practice and to ensure Congress can discharge its constitutional responsibilities, we also expect the underlying evidence uncovered during the course of the Special Counsel’s investigation will be turned over to the relevant Committees of Congress upon request,” the six officials said in a statement.