Democrats on Sunday immediately seized on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's refusal to exonerate President Trump on the question of obstruction of justice, with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee pledging to pick up where investigators left off and call Attorney General William Barr to testify.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, a Democrat whose panel has jurisdiction over impeachment, took to Twitter to highlight Mueller's finding that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Nadler said the statement suggests that Justice Department officials are “putting matters squarely in Congress' court” to continue to investigate.
House Democrats, who have faced resistance from the White House to their repeated requests for documents, said Sunday that they will proceed with their investigations while insisting that they need to see Mueller's full report and the underlying documents.
“Americans deserve to know all the facts, which is why the report itself should be released — to the fullest extent of the law — in addition to the attorney general's summary,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md).
“The special counsel did not exonerate the president,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “In fact, according to the attorney general's letter, he described a pattern of evidence suggesting the president engaged in obstruction of justice.”
But Democrats will face intense pressure from jubilant Republicans, who welcomed Barr's summary, insisted it had cleared the president and maintained that it was time to end the investigations. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said the report vindicates Trump, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declared Sunday that “it is time we move on for the good of the nation.”
Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, predicted Sunday that “we will have a hard fight ahead over release of the full report and materials” but insisted that Democrats are “justified in seeking a broad view of what materials led to [Mueller's] conclusion.”
In the House, Judiciary Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) voiced a similar conviction, saying, “Now more than ever, we need to see the Mueller report and all of the underlying evidence.”
He added that Barr's “analysis and rationale are fair game for congressional investigation too,” pointing out that it was Barr's conclusion, not Mueller's, that Trump had no ill intent behind the evidence that could be considered obstruction of justice.
As for the Mueller report's apparent confidence that Trump and his subordinates had not colluded with Russians to sway the 2016 election, even when presented with the opportunity, Raskin insisted that he had “regarded the question of so-called collusion as an irrelevant distraction from the very beginning.”
“There is no crime known as collusion except in the field of antitrust law,” he said.
But that doesn't mean Democrats are likely to drop the Russia-focused probe of their Trump investigations.
“The job of the special counsel is very different than our job; they're looking for specific statutory offenses and a quantum of evidence that surpasses beyond a reasonable doubt,” Raskin said. “That's very different than what we're looking for in terms of examining threats to the political sovereignty of the United States.”
Some Democrats responded to Sunday's news by immediately questioning Barr's motives, noting that he was appointed by Trump. Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted that “maybe Barr's interpretation is right. Maybe it's not. But why the heck would we be ok with an ally of President, appointed because of his hostility to the Mueller investigation, tell us what the report says?”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also pressed for greater transparency, saying in a tweet that on the issue of obstruction of justice, Mueller “tossed a jump ball, & the AG tipped it to President Trump, but shared none of the information supporting his conclusion.”
Earlier Sunday, Democrats maintained that it was too early to raise the specter of impeaching Trump but suggested that they are keeping their options open, while Republicans fired back that Democrats would probably move to impeach the president no matter what.
On the morning news shows, Nadler said it is “way too early to speculate” about impeachment. He said he still believes Trump obstructed justice, although “whether they're criminal obstructions is another question.”
“What Congress has to do is look at a broader picture. We have the responsibility of protecting the rule of law ... so that our democratic institutions are not greatly damaged by this president,” Nadler said on CNN's “State of the Union.”
Democrats will “try to negotiate, we'll try everything else first,” but if they have to, they will issue subpoenas and are “absolutely” willing to go to the Supreme Court if necessary to get the Mueller report, Nadler said.
Asked how long they are willing to wait for the Justice Department to provide the full Mueller report, he replied, “It won't be months.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) quickly seized on Nadler's comments, arguing on CNN that they show Democrats are “immediately pivoting away” from the report and plan to move ahead with plans to impeach Trump no matter what.
“They fully intend to impeach the president,” Cruz said. “What they're basically saying is they're going to impeach the president for being Donald Trump.”
In an interview this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said impeachment would be “so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path.”