Congressional Democrats on Thursday claimed ownership of the obstruction of justice investigation into President Trump, vowing to pick up the inquiry where special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report left off.
“It was probably written with the intent of providing Congress a roadmap,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
Atty. Gen. William Barr on Thursday released a redacted version of the 448-page report, marking the end of the Justice Department’s two-year investigation and the start of a new chapter, this one controlled entirely by Trump’s political opponents in Congress.
Democrats lambasted Barr’s redactions of the report and particularly a four-page summary he released last month. They said Barr — acting to protect the president who appointed him — masked key findings in the fuller report, omitted evidence of potential obstruction and improperly concluded that the president did not illegally interfere with the investigation into whether his campaign conspired in Russia’s 2016 election meddling.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Barr’s “slanted March 24th summary letter, his irresponsible testimony before Congress” and the fact that he held a news conference Thursday morning before the report was released “have resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality.”
Barr misled the public, they argue, when he said a Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted did not play a role in Mueller’s refusal to decide whether Trump obstructed justice. Mueller cited it as one of several considerations.
They also said Barr wrongly suggested that Mueller left to the attorney general the decision on whether to prosecute Trump for obstruction.
“It is now apparent that the special counsel expressed no desire to have Barr make that decision himself,” said a joint statement from six House committee chairs. “Instead, as the special counsel undoubtedly anticipated, it must fall to Congress to assess the president’s improper, corrupt and immoral conduct in an effort to obstruct the investigation.”
The immediate congressional response to the long-awaited report was somewhat muted, with Congress out of session and lawmakers scattered around the country and the world on official trips. Many lawmakers released only written or tweeted reactions.
Many felt emboldened by Mueller’s legal analysis that Congress has authority to investigate and potentially act upon the information he compiled.
Mueller refuted legal arguments asserted by Trump’s attorneys that a president’s exercise of any executive power granted under the Constitution, such as pardoning or ending an investigation, cannot constitute illegal obstruction. If done for “corrupt” reasons, Mueller concluded, even presidential powers can be reviewed.
“We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a president’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” the report said.
Republicans in Congress rallied around Barr’s characterization that the investigation found no evidence that Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russians or that the president obstructed justice in the course of the investigation.
“Democrats want to keep searching for imaginary evidence that supports their claims, but it is simply not there,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). “It is time to move on.”
The idea of impeachment has largely subsided because Mueller did not find evidence that would prompt bipartisan calls to remove the president, something Pelosi said would be needed for her to pursue it. Nadler on Thursday said impeachment was merely “one possibility” of where Congress’ investigations may lead.
“It’s too early to talk about that,” he said. “We will have to go follow the evidence where it leads, and I don’t know exactly where it leads.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) said impeachment should not be the only standard.
“It is important to note that the facts that are now established by this report are damning,” Schiff said. “Whether they could or should have resulted in the indictment of the president or people around him, they are damning and we should call for better from our elected officials.”
Not all Democrats agreed.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said the report “squarely put” impeachment “on our doorstep.” She said she would sign on to an impeachment resolution.
The coming battle to obtain the full report — Nadler said Thursday that he will subpoena it — threatens to consume Washington for months.
Barr said the law required him to redact from the report any information obtained as part of a grand jury investigation. While Barr said he would provide a select, bipartisan group of lawmakers with a version of the report with fewer redactions, he said he would still not release grand jury material.
The fuller version of the report will be shared as soon as next week with the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate judiciary committees — including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). It will also go to the so-called Gang of Eight — the top Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate, including Pelosi and McCarthy.
The grand jury information is a key point of contention with Democrats who argue Congress has a right to view it and has a history of accessing it in prior special counsel investigations.
Barr said his offer to share a less-redacted version of the report with select lawmakers — as well as his testimony before Congress, slated for May 1 and May 2 — should be enough for Congress to conduct its oversight.
“I believe that this accommodation together with my upcoming testimony before the Senate and House judiciary committees will satisfy any need Congress has for information regarding the special counsel’s investigation,” Barr said.
Times staff writers Sarah D. Wire and Janet Hook contributed to this report.