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By Rebecca Shabad
WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted to authorize a subpoena for the full, unredacted report by special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the U.S. election and alleged obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.
The committee took the action after Attorney General William Barr told Congress that he intends later this month to provide a report to lawmakers with certain material removed. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., wanted to have the subpoena power ready in case Barr doesn’t comply with Democrats’ demands for the nearly 400-page report.
“The Constitution charges Congress with holding the president accountable for alleged official misconduct. That job requires us to evaluate the evidence for ourselves — not the attorney general’s summary, not a substantially redacted synopsis, but the full report and the underlying evidence,” Nadler said in his opening remarks Wednesday, adding that so far, Barr has “refused” to work with him to help obtain access to materials the chairman said his committee is entitled to under the law.
Nadler indicated in his opening statement that he doesn’t plan to immediately issue the subpoena and would “give [Barr] time to change his mind.”
“But if we cannot reach an accommodation, then we will have no choice but to issue subpoenas for these materials,” Nadler warned. “And if the department still refuses, then it should be up to a judge — not the president or his political appointee — to decide whether or not it is appropriate for the committee to review the complete record.”
The resolution calls for the final Mueller report as well as “any accompanying exhibits, annexes, tables, appendices, other attachments and all evidence referenced in the report” as well as “underlying evidence collected, materials prepared, or documents used by” Mueller’s office.
The measure also authorizes the committee to issue subpoenas for documents and testimony from five individuals: former White House counsel Don McGahn, former Trump adviser and White House strategist Steve Bannon, former White House communications director Hope Hicks, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and former White House deputy counsel Ann Donaldson.
“We believe that these individuals may have received documents from the White House in preparation for their interviews with the special counsel. We also believe that these individuals may have turned this information over to their private attorneys,” Nadler said.
During the meeting, Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., introduced an amendment that would have eliminated grand jury information from the documents requested in the subpoena, which failed on a party-line vote.
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., ranking member on Judiciary, blasted Democrats’ decision to move toward issuing subpoenas, saying that the move is “reckless and that they’re “desperately searching for something on the president.”
“This is all preemptive,” Collins said. “Five of the people listed in this subpoena have been cooperating.”
He also argued that the subpoena for the Mueller report would command the attorney general to break the law. “The attorney general’s entire mandate is to enforce the law, and he’s expressly forbidden from providing grand jury material outside of the department, with very limited and narrow exceptions. Congress is not one of those exceptions, and the chairman knows it,” Collins said.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, suggested that Democrats should just be patient. “The attorney general has said he’s going to turn this over in a matter of days. Let’s wait.”
Barr said in a letter last Friday to Nadler and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that he planned to release the report to Congress “in mid-April, if not sooner,” but also said that there would be redactions.
In a letter to Barr on Monday, Nadler and five other Democratic committee chairmen wrote that that pledge wasn’t enough. “On Wednesday, April 3, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee plans to begin the process of authorizing subpoenas for the report and underlying evidence and materials,” they wrote. “While we hope to avoid resort [sic] to compulsory process, if the Department is unwilling to produce the report to Congress in unredacted form, then we will have little choice but to take such action.”
During the meeting, several Republicans repeated an argument raised by Trump a day earlier in which they claimed that Nadler strongly opposed the release of independent counsel Ken Starr’s report on President Bill Clinton related to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Nadler, however, said he wanted to set the record straight.
“In 1998, the debate was not about Congress receiving evidence. Congress had already received the full, 445-page report and 17 boxes of additional documents, including grand jury material. We are owed that same opportunity today,” he said.
“In 1998, the central debate was about the public release of some of the materials accompanying the Starr report — materials that Congress already had, and that described private sexual acts in lurid detail,” he added. “Congress has no business broadcasting graphic accounts of the president’s sex life. It was inappropriate in 1998. It would be inappropriate today.”
Rebecca Shabad is a congressional reporter for NBC News, based in Washington.
Mike Memoli contributed.