House Democrats make deal to see Mueller files on Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House expects to receive the first files of underlying evidence from Robert Mueller's report soon, after a sudden shift by the Justice Department as Democrats weigh impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

It's unclear if the deal, announced just moments before the start of a Judiciary Committee hearing with Watergate star witness John Dean, will ultimately be enough for Democrats who have called for the full, unredacted report and underlying documentation from the special counsel's work. But it signaled the first real breakthrough in the standoff over the report and came at the start of a week of ramped-up action by the House in the Trump-Russia probe.

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Former White House counsel for the Nixon administration John Dean is sworn in before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Mueller Report on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, June 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the committee, said the Justice Department will provide some of Mueller's "most important files" and all members of the committee will be able to view them. He said the files will include those used to assess whether Trump obstructed justice.

In response to the agreement, Nadler said the panel will not vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in criminal contempt, for now. But the House will still vote on a resolution Tuesday that would empower the committee to file a civil lawsuit for the materials, if Democrats decide to do so.

That was the expected outcome even before the deal, as Democrats have shifted their strategy toward lawsuits and away from criminal contempt. Criminal contempt would be referred to the Justice Department, where it would certainly be rejected. And Democrats have been encouraged by some early wins in court as Trump has broadly fought congressional oversight.

Nadler said in his statement that he would give the Justice Department some time to comply.

"If the Department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need, then there will be no need to take further steps," Nadler said in a statement. "If important information is held back, then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies."

The sudden turn of events came ahead of a pivotal week for House Democrats, who are torn over whether to move forward with impeachment proceedings and searching for ways to focus public attention on Trump's actions.

Dean, a White House counsel under Richard Nixon who helped bring down his presidency, testified Monday that Mueller has provided Congress with a "road map" for investigating Trump.

He said he saw parallels between Mueller's findings regarding Trump and those of congressional investigators looking into Nixon's administration decades ago. He pointed to the way the presidents used their pardon power in an attempt to influence witness testimony, and their efforts to seize control of the investigation and direct the efforts of prosecutors.

Trump, apparently watching the televised hearing, tweeted, "Can't believe they are bringing in John Dean, the disgraced Nixon White House Counsel." He added his oft-repeated claim, "No Collusion - No Obstruction!"

At times, Dean, who said he last appeared before Congress in 1974, was forced to fend off attacks from committee Republicans.

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, dismissed Dean as a "godfather" figure. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, criticized Dean's work and noted he pleaded guilty after Watergate. And Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a Trump ally, derided his appearance as a Capitol Hill version of "That '70s Show."

In addition to Dean, two former U.S. attorneys who served during the Obama administration, Barbara McQuade and Joyce Vance, also testified before the committee. Both have become regulars on cable news shows, analyzing developments in the Mueller investigation and offering criticism on Twitter of the president's conduct.

The Justice Department said it was pleased the House committee had "agreed to set aside its contempt resolution and is returning to the traditional accommodation process." The department "remains committed to appropriately accommodating Congress's legitimate interests related to the Special Counsel's Investigation and will continue to do so provided the previously voted-upon resolution does not advance," spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

And at the same time, the Justice Department announced it was stepping up its counter-probe into the origins of the Russia investigations, a priority for Trump and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill.

The department said Monday it has asked intelligence agencies to preserve all relevant records and access to witnesses. Republican lawmakers are eager to dig into those documents and determine why Trump's campaign was under scrutiny.

Democrats and Republicans are vying to win over public opinion in the fallout from Mueller's probe.

While the special counsel concluded there was not sufficient evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to swing the 2016 election, Mueller also said he could not exonerate the president of obstruction of justice in the investigation.

The procession of hearings and votes in the week ahead is partly designed to mollify anxious Democrats who have pushed House Speaker Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings immediately. A growing number of Democrats say the House should start impeachment proceedings in part because Trump is obstructing justice now by refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony. Pelosi, D-Calif., prefers to continue the investigations.

On Tuesday, the House has scheduled the vote to authorize lawsuits against Barr and former White House counsel Donald McGahn for failing to comply with subpoenas from the Democratic-controlled House. The vote will put the full House on record approving the lawsuits, if leaders and committees decide they want to move forward with them.

On Wednesday, the House Intelligence Committee intends to review the counterintelligence implications of the Russian meddling.

During a meeting with Nadler and other committee heads last week, Pelosi made the case that she would rather see Trump voted out of office and "in prison" than merely impeached, according to a report in Politico. A person familiar with the exchange confirmed the account to The Associated Press.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.


Democrats push new strategy for enforcing Russia subpoenas

By MARY CLARE JALONICK and LISA MASCARO Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are pushing a resolution through the House Tuesday that would make it easier to sue President Donald Trump's administration and potential witnesses, paving the way for legal action against those who defy subpoenas in Congress' Russia probe and other investigations.

The House resolution would authorize lawsuits against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn for defying subpoenas pertaining to special counsel Robert Mueller's report . It also would empower committee chairmen to take legal action to enforce subpoenas without a vote of the full House, as long as they have approval from a bipartisan group of House leaders.

Tuesday's vote reflects an evolving strategy for Democrats, who have moved toward lawsuits and away from criminal contempt as they investigate the Trump administration . Criminal contempt would be referred to the Justice Department, where it would certainly be rejected. In the courts, meanwhile, Democrats have scored some early wins over Trump.

The vote, along with two hearings this week on the Mueller report, is partly designed to mollify anxious Democrats who have tried to pressure House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings immediately. Pelosi, D-Calif., prefers to continue the investigations and see where they lead.

Pelosi said at a policy conference Tuesday that Democrats' strategy is "legislating, investigating, litigating," in that order.

She also continued to brush back questions about impeaching Trump, saying "it's not even close" to having enough support among House Democrats for a vote. While several dozen Democrats have called to begin the process with an impeachment inquiry, the majority of Pelosi's caucus has stood behind her.

It's unclear how quickly Democrats will go to court once the resolution is approved. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler signaled on Monday that they will hold off on suing Barr after the panel struck a dealwith the Justice Department to receive some underlying materials from Mueller's report. Nadler said the administration will provide some of Mueller's "most important files" and all members of the committee will be able to view them.

Easing tensions with Barr, at least for now, Nadler said the panel will not vote to hold the attorney general in criminal contempt. But with Tuesday's vote to authorize civil legal action, Democrats made clear that they are still willing to go to court if necessary to obtain Mueller's full report and the underlying evidence.

"If the department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need, then there will be no need to take further steps," Nadler said in a statement. "If important information is held back, then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies."

A court case could come more quickly for McGahn, who has defied subpoenas for documents and testimony at the behest of the White House .

New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a member of Democratic leadership and the Judiciary panel, said Tuesday that he expects they will not "race to the courthouse" if the Justice Department continues to cooperate. But he said McGahn is another matter.

McGahn is in "a particularly Fvulnerable situation" as a private person no longer employed by the government, Jeffries said. "He should begin to cooperate immediately or face the consequences."

Democrats are ramping up action related to Mueller's probe into Russia election meddling as they try to focus more public attention on the report, released in redacted form in April . Mueller wrote that there was not enough evidence to establish that there was a conspiracy between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia, but he also said he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice. The report examined several episodes in which Trump attempted to influence Mueller's probe.

On Monday, the Judiciary panel heard testimony from John Dean, a White House counsel under Richard Nixon who helped bring down his presidency. Dean testified that Mueller has provided Congress with a "road map" for investigating Trump.

He said he saw parallels between Mueller's findings regarding Trump and those of congressional investigators looking into Nixon's administration decades ago. Dean pointed to the way the presidents used their pardon power in an attempt to influence witness testimony, and their efforts to seize control of the investigation and direct the efforts of prosecutors.

Trump, apparently watching the televised hearing, tweeted, "Can't believe they are bringing in John Dean, the disgraced Nixon White House Counsel." He added his oft-repeated claim, "No Collusion - No Obstruction!"

The focus on Mueller will continue Wednesday, when the House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to review the counterintelligence implications of Russia's election interference, as detailed in Mueller's report.

Republicans have criticized the hearings as a waste of time and have called for Democrats to move on.

"The chairman wants to talk about anything that might sway opinion against the president before the 2020 election," Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, said at Monday's hearing. "That's why these proceedings are moving so slowly: Robert Mueller closed up shop a little too early in the election cycle."


Case opened: Democrats begin public airing of Mueller report

By MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says it's "case closed ." But Democrats are just getting started with Robert Mueller .

House Democrats have scheduled a series of hearings this coming week on the special counsel's report as they intensify their focus on the Russia probe and pick up the pace on an investigative "path" — in the words of Speaker Nancy Pelosi — that some of them hope leads to impeachment of the president.

In doing so, they are trying to draw the public's attention on the allegations that Trump sought to obstruct a federal investigation and they want to highlight his campaign's contacts with Russia in the 2016 election.

And they will lay the groundwork for an appearance from Mueller himself, despite his stated desire to avoid the spotlight .

The hearings will focus on the two main topics of Mueller's report, obstruction of justice and Russian election interference.

The House Judiciary Committee plans to cover the first topic at a Monday hearing on "presidential obstruction and other crimes." The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday intends to review the counterintelligence implications of the Russian meddling. Mueller said there was not enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but he said he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction.

On Tuesday, the House has scheduled a vote to authorize contempt casesagainst Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Donald McGahn for failing to comply with subpoenas from the Democratic-controlled House.

Barr defied a subpoena to provide an unredacted version of Mueller's report, along with underlying evidence. McGahn, who is frequently referenced in the report, has defied subpoenas to provide documents and testify before the House Judiciary Committee.

Language in the resolution would make it easier for committee chairmen to take the Trump administration to court. Those chairmen could take legal action to enforce subpoenas in the future without a vote of the full House, so long as the chairmen have approval from a five-person, bipartisan group where Democrats have the majority.

With Trump pledging that "we're fighting all the subpoenas," Democratic leaders want to avoid repeated floor votes on contempt resolutions that detract from their legislative agenda.

The procession of hearings and votes in the week ahead is partly designed to mollify anxious Democrats who have pushed Pelosi, D-Calif., to begin impeachment proceedings immediately . Pelosi has so far rejected that option , preferring a slower, more methodical approach to investigating the president, including the court fights and hearings.

During a meeting with the House Judiciary Committee chairman, New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, and other committee heads last week, Pelosi made the case that she would rather see Trump voted out of office and "in prison" than merely impeached, according to a report in Politico. A person familiar with the exchange confirmed the account to The Associated Press.

The latest approach appears to have temporarily satisfied the restless House Democrats.

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who pleaded with Pelosi last month to start an inquiry, said the votes and hearings are going to be enough, for now, as they wait to see what happens in court.

"I am very satisfied that things are moving in the right direction," Raskin said. "And I think the American people are getting increasingly educated and engaged about the lawlessness of the president."

Rep. David Cicilline, a Judiciary Committee member who favors an impeachment inquiry, took pains to avoid separating himself from top Democrats such as Pelosi.

"We should never proceed with impeachment for political reasons. We should never refuse to proceed with impeachment for political reasons," Cicilline, D-R.I., said on "Fox News Sunday."

Educating the American public on what is in the Mueller report is a priority for Democrats, who believe Trump and his allies have created the public impression that the report said there was no obstruction of justice. Trump has made that assertion repeatedly, echoing Barr's judgment that there was not enough evidence in the report to support a criminal obstruction charge. Mueller said in the report that he could not exonerate Trump on that point.

The special counsel did not find evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump's campaign and Russia. But the report details multiple contacts between the two.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the goal of the Wednesday hearing will be to explain to the American people "the serious counterintelligence concerns raised by the Mueller report, examine the depth and breadth of the unethical and unpatriotic conduct it describes, and produce prescriptive remedies to ensure that this never happens again."

Republicans are poised to defend the president at the hearings and challenge Democrats on the decision not to open impeachment hearings.

Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, sent Nadler a letter Friday calling the upcoming hearing a "mock impeachment hearing" and warning Democrats to be civil when speaking of the president.

Collins said in the letter that outside of impeachment proceedings, "it is out of order for a member of Congress, in debate, to engage in personalities with the president or express an opinion, even a third party opinion, accusing the president of a crime. The rules are clear on this point."