Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on his Russia investigation — which we now know is nearly 400 pages long — is still under lock and key. President Trump, his critics and his defenders have had to base their takes on a four-page summary of Mueller’s “principal conclusions” by Atty. Gen. William P. Barr.
Last week Barr promised that he would release the actual report “by mid-April, if not sooner.” But it won’t be the whole document. In a letter to the chairman of the House and Senate judiciary committees, Barr said he and Mueller would redact — Washingtonese for “black out” — the following categories of information:
(1) material subject to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) that by law cannot be made public;(2) material the intelligence community identifies as potentially compromising sensitive sources and methods;(3) material that could affect other ongoing matters, including those that the Special Counsel has referred to other [Justice] Department offices; and (4) information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.
These restrictions are more extensive than many people, including members of the Los Angeles Times editorial board, believe are necessary given public interest in the investigation. Democrats are right to tell Barr that the less redaction, the better.
Even some grand-jury information should be made public. As Barr noted, Rule 6 (e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that government attorneys may not disclose what occurs before a grand jury. But there are exceptions, which may go beyond the examples listed in the regulation. (That said, prying loose grand-jury information may be difficult.)
In his response to Barr’s second letter, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) urged the attorney general to join with Congress in asking a federal court “to release any and all grand jury information to the House Judiciary Committee — as has occurred in every similar investigation in the past.”
That’s a smart move, and Nadler can cite bipartisan support for transparency. On March 14, the House voted 420-0 in favor of a resolution calling for the release to the public of Mueller’s complete findings with an exception for classified material.
Even Trump himself said he thinks the report should be made public, though he has seemed to hedge on that position recently. (Last week he tweeted: “The problem is, no matter what the Radical Left Democrats get, no matter what we give them, it will never be enough. . . . So maybe we should just take our victory and say NO, we’ve got a Country to run!”)
But Democrats must be careful about needless confrontation and actions that suggest a purely partisan motive.
For example, Nadler is planning a vote on Wednesday by his committee to authorize a subpoena for the Mueller report. Given Barr’s promise in writing to deliver the report by the middle of the month, that may be needlessly precipitous. And if the vote breaks down on party lines, Trump will be able to portray the request for the report as Witch Hunt 2.
It’s not a secret that many Democrats hope that ventilation of the details in Mueller’s report will make Trump and his campaign look bad. According to Barr, Mueller “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” But the actual report might contain enough evidence of improper contacts that Democrats can spin the collusion issue the other way.
Then there is the fact that Mueller punted on the question of whether Trump committed obstruction of justice by engaging in actions “most of which have been the subject of public reporting.”
Barr and Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein concluded on their own that Mueller’s evidence “is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” But Democrats can hope that the actual Mueller report, as opposed to Barr’s bare-bones account of its “principal conclusions,” might lend itself to a more incriminating interpretation.