On Friday afternoon, attorney general William Barr sent a note to Congress that seemed like a substantial improvement over his previous position. He would be releasing the Mueller report to Congress, rather than writing a second summary of that report, the release would happen by “mid-April, if not sooner,” and the White House would apparently not get their own special pass through the document to edit anything they didn’t like. The intention of Barr’s letter is clear—to stop Democrats from continuing action to secure the full report.
The offer contained in Barr’s second letter was an improvement … but it’s a long way from good enough. What Barr is indicating now is an improvement on his earlier statement that he would author a second “summary” of the special counsel material He’s not stating that he would start with the documents provided to him by Robert Mueller’s team, but he listed a least four reasons for redactions. According to Barr, the special counsel was working with them in making those redactions, but the areas of redaction are broad enough—including anything having to do with counterintelligence, items under consideration in other jurisdictions, and materials that would “infringe the privacy of …peripheral third parties”—that it seems like a formula for a document saddled with a lot of blacked out text. In addition, Barr insisted that the document would follow rules concerning evidence presented to the grand jury, making it unclear if the version of the report he intended to deliver would include vital grand jury testimony.
In response to Barr’s second letter to Congress, both House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff and House Judiciary chair Jerry Nadler made it clear that they were not happy to wait weeks for a trimmed-down, marked-up version of Mueller’s report. Though a report that included everything—including material that could threaten intelligence sources or damage outstanding court cases—should not be made public, there’s no reason that the report can’t be turned over to the leadership of the appropriate Congressional committees. Both Nadler and Schiff reiterated that they expect the complete, unredacted version of the report on their desks no latter than April 2.
And they’re looking at various ways to apply pressure if that does not happen.
Before any version of the report can be made public, and be fit between the covers provided by all those publishers who were promising a bookstore version by March 26, there is little doubt that there will be redactions. To publish it without would definitely impact U.S. intelligence operations and possibly derail cases either under investigation or prosecution by both federal and state prosecutors. Expect Republicans, including those who repeatedly ignored concerns about the damage they could do in their efforts to attack the investigation process, to suddenly become very concerned and treat releasing even fragments of the report in advance of a Barr-cleared version as scandalous.
But Barr’s black-marker efforts shouldn’t delay delivering a copy to Congress. That only requires a few hours with the copy machine and a courier.
Should that report fail to be on their desks by the end of day on Tuesday, Democratic House members are looking at what steps they can take. They could, and probably will, issue a subpoena. However, Barr can, and probably will, challenge that effort. If the resulting court tangle goes on for more than a few days, Barr might easily produce his marked-up version of the report in the middle of the effort, setting off another round of conflict. And, as with his first letter, there’s every reason to believe that the version produced by Barr, even if it is redacted down to the barest of bones, will be treated by the media again as “the Mueller report.”
Democrats are also looking at other ways to apply pressure, including as the Washington Post reports, cutting funds from budget areas that Trump supports. However, that’s more of a long term negotiating tactic and more likely to be valuable in dealing with other investigations where the White House has been slow to respond to demands for documents and testimony. Getting Barr to produce the complete report, on time, is going to take some creative thinking and a willingness to take bold moves—including the possibility of clearing out a House basement storeroom and calling up the sergeant at arms.
It’s going to be an interesting week.