The House judiciary chairman, Jerry Nadler, on Friday issued a subpoena for the full, unredacted report by special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 US election and the Trump campaign.
The subpoena seeks not only the “complete and unredacted” report, but also all of the underlying documents referenced in it, including grand jury evidence. The New York Democrat said on Good Morning America that the information was necessary “to make informed decisions” on what happens next.
Nadler’s committee, which has the power to launch impeachment proceedings, voted in early April to authorize the subpoena for the report after the attorney general, William Barr, outlined the categories he intended to shield.
The 448-page summary of Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation concluded without reaching a verdict on whether the president illegally obstructed justice. But the report catalogues nearly a dozen instances in which Trump attempts to stop the investigation, narrow its scope or influence witnesses involved in the inquiry. Mueller cited legal constraints which prevent the justice department from charging a sitting president with obstruction of justice – and suggested a final say on the matter may lie with Congress.
Trump, who left Washington for a long weekend at his Mar-a-Lago golf club in Florida after the release of the report, tweeted on Friday to say parts of the “Crazy Mueller Report” were “total bullshit”.
The subpoena came as Democrats vowed to continue investigating Donald Trump a day after the report was made public, revealing striking new details about the president’s effort to thwart a federal inquiry he believed threatened his presidency.
Shortly after a redacted version of the exhaustive report was released to the public on Thursday, Nadler said it outlined “disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice” and the “responsibility now falls to Congress to hold the president accountable for his actions”.
Nadler’s sweeping request instructs Barr to hand over “all documents obtained and investigative materials created” by Mueller’s office. It sets Barr a deadline of 1 May, a day before Barr is set to testify before the committee Nadler heads in Congress.
This document haul, amounting to all the work created over 22 months by the special counsel’s 19 attorneys and almost 40 other investigators, could well run to more than a million pages.
Mueller’s team interviewed about 500 people, issued more than 2,800 subpoenas and obtained hundreds more court orders for records of electronic communications.
Barr may decide to fight the request, which would mean Nadler’s committee has to go to court to request that the subpoena be enforced. It is possible that the dispute could eventually reach the US supreme court.
In a statement on Friday, Nadler said he was willing to work with the justice department to “reach a reasonable accommodation” but stressed he would not accept a situation that “leaves most of Congress in the dark”.
In a letter to colleagues, the Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, declared: “Congress will not be silent.”
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Republicans viscerally disagreed with the assessment that Congress should pick up where Mueller left off.
“Democrats want to keep searching for imaginary evidence that supports their claims, but it is simply not there,” said the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy. “It is time to move on.”
But far from turning the page on the investigation, Democrats are opening a new, bitterly partisan chapter. Facing them now is an issue that has already sharply divided the party along ideological and generation lines: impeachment.
Democratic leaders see more risk than reward in initiating an impeachment inquiry, especially after Mueller said he found “insufficient evidence” to conclude that Trump conspired with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. Without that support, Republicans are unlikely to break with the president, as they did with Richard Nixon after Watergate.
“Unless [there’s] a bipartisan conclusion, an impeachment would be doomed to failure,” the House intelligence committee chairman, Adam Schiff, said on CNN. “I continue to think that a failed impeachment is not in the national interest.”
A partisan endeavor could risk repeating what Democrats widely view as a historic overreach by Republicans, when they pursued impeachment against Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. Democrats fear that a divisive and unpopular impeachment battle would galvanize Trump’s supporters – as it did for Clinton 21 years ago - and would swamp the party’s policy agenda that they believe is crucial to unseating Trump in the 2020 election and holding on to their majority in the House of Representatives.
Still, if the House did move forward with articles of impeachment, every Senate Democrat and 20 Senate Republicans would have to vote to remove Trump from office – an unlikely scenario at this stage.
The House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, told CNN that impeachment was “not worthwhile” with a presidential election 18 months away. Nadler said that impeachment hearings were “one possibility” but that it was “too early” to discuss it.
“We will have to go follow the evidence where it leads,” he said. “And I don’t know exactly where it will lead.”
But in a sign that the issue is far from settled, New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most vocal and high-profile members of Congress, said she would sign on to an impeachment proposal offered by her fellow freshman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
Though there are few signs Democrats are preparing to move forward with impeachment, the report has opened several potential avenues for congressional inquiry that are all but certain to consume Washington for at least the next several months.
Barr said he was required by law to redact certain pieces of information, including evidence collected as part of a grand jury investigation. He has offered to meet with some congressional leaders to review a less redacted version of the report.
Still, Democrats have excoriated Barr for his handling of the release of the Mueller report, accusing him of “deliberately” distorting its findings to protect Trump.
Ahead of the public release of the report, Barr held a press conference to assert that Trump’s actions did not meet the legal threshold for obstruction of justice. He repeatedly invoked Trump’s own language – including “no collusion” – to defend him. His performance led some Democrats to call for his resignation.