Republicans stay silent on Mueller report, leaving Washington more polarised than ever

Nicholas Fandos, Peter Baker
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Republicans stay silent on Mueller report, leaving Washington more polarised than ever

House Democrats vowed Friday to pursue the revelations in the special counsel’s report on President Donald Trump but drew little Republican support in a nation still deeply polarised over the investigation that has dogged the White House for two years.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena demanding that the Justice Department hand over an unredacted copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report along with underlying evidence by 1 May and promised “major hearings” into its findings.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts became the most prominent Democrat to call for impeachment.

But most Republican lawmakers remained silent on the report, meaning any effort to force Trump from office faced long odds barring an unexpected change of political circumstances.

The months to come may see more fireworks over the report, including a constitutional clash in court over releasing it in full, but privately some Democrats have concluded that the president’s fate will probably be decided at the ballot box next year.

While Trump had initially greeted the report as an exoneration, he spent at least part of the day in Florida stewing about disloyal aides who talked with investigators and sounded more defensive than celebratory.

He expressed particular unhappiness over the report’s inclusion of granular accounts of his efforts to derail the investigation based on FBI interviews and notes of his own advisers.

“Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue,” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.

“Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes’, when the notes never existed until needed.

“Because I never agreed to testify, it was not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the ‘Report’ about me, some of which are total bullshit & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad),” he went on.

“This was an Illegally Started Hoax that never should have happened, a ...”

At that point he stopped and did not finish the thought until eight hours later: “...big, fat waste of time, energy and money.”

He went on to vow to go after his pursuers, whom he called “some very sick and dangerous people who have committed very serious crimes, perhaps even Spying or Treason”.

The mention of notes appeared to refer to his former White House counsel, Don McGahn, who told investigators that the president pressed him to have Mr Mueller fired and complained when he took notes.

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, challenged the credibility of Mr McGahn’s account later Friday.

“It can’t be taken at face value,” he said in an interview. “It could be the product of an inaccurate recollection or could be the product of something else.”

But Mr McGahn had no motive to lie, according to Robert Mueller, and he rebutted Mr Giuliani through his own lawyer.

“It’s a mystery why Rudy Giuliani feels the need to relitigate incidents the attorney general and deputy attorney general have concluded were not obstruction,” said the lawyer, William Burck. “But they are accurately described in the report.”

On the campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidates condemned the president’s conduct and called for action against him.

“The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty,” said Warren, who is seeking the Democratic nomination.

“That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the president of the United States.”

In an era of deep polarisation, Mueller’s 448-page report quickly became yet another case study in the disparate realities of American politics as each camp interpreted it through its own lens and sought to weaponise it against the other side.

The president’s defenders insisted he was cleared because even though Mr Mueller confirmed a wide-ranging Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 election on Mr Trump’s behalf, the special counsel established no criminal conspiracy with his campaign and opted not to decide whether to accuse the president of obstruction of justice.

Trump’s critics called it a devastating indictment of a candidate willing to profit from the help of a foreign power and a president who repeatedly sought to disrupt or end the investigation even if he was not charged with violating the law.

Few Republicans expressed concern about Mr Mueller’s findings, with most lawmakers out of town for the spring recess studiously avoiding comment.

One of the exceptions was Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who said he was “appalled” that the president’s campaign welcomed help from Russia.

“I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the president,” he said in a statement.

“Reading the report,” he added, “is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders.”

Senator Rob Portman said the report “documents a number of actions taken by the president or his associates that were inappropriate”, but he pointed to the conclusion by Attorney General William Barr and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, that the evidence did not warrant charging Mr Trump.

More typical among Republicans was the reaction of Senator Marco Rubio, who has been working closely with the White House on the crisis in Venezuela.

“We should ALL be alarmed at how effective Putin was & we should ALL be relieved, not disappointed, that President didn’t collaborate with him,” he tweeted.

The subpoena issued on Friday by Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, escalated a fight with Barr over what material Congress is entitled to see from the investigation even as Democrats continued to pummel the attorney general for effectively serving as the president’s defence lawyer.

Mr Nadler asked for all evidence obtained by Mr Mueller’s investigators, including summaries of witness interviews and classified intelligence — and indicated that he intended to air it to the public.

“Even the redacted version of the report outlines serious instances of wrongdoing by President Trump and some of his closest associates,” Mr Nadler said in a statement.

“It now falls to Congress to determine the full scope of that alleged misconduct and to decide what steps we must take going forward.”

The Justice Department dismissed the subpoena, saying that Barr had made “only minimal redactions” and offered to allow congressional leaders to view a version with even fewer deletions.

“In light of this, Congressman Nadler’s subpoena is premature and unnecessary,” said Kerri Kupec, a department spokeswoman.

“The department will continue to work with Congress to accommodate its legitimate requests consistent with the law and long-recognised executive branch interests.”

“The idea is not to decide whether to debate articles of impeachment — we may get to that point,” Mr Nadler said in an interview with WNYC.

“The idea is to find out exactly what went on, who did what, what institutional safeguards were gotten [sic] around and how, and then decide what to do about it.”

Mr Nadler’s Republican counterpart on the Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins, blasted the subpoena as going “wildly overboard” and encouraged Mr Nadler to narrow its terms and extend the response time.

As written, he said, Mr Nadler’s subpoena was demanding “millions of records that would be plainly against the law to share” because of investigators’ extensive use of a grand jury.

“The attorney general offered up a 400-page report that he wasn’t bound to provide,” Mr Collins said.

“The attorney general stands ready to testify before our committee and to have the special counsel do the same. Yet Chairman Nadler disregards all of this good-faith transparency without even taking the department up on its offer to review material under the redactions.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has publicly opposed impeachment unless Democrats can attract bipartisan support in the House and the Senate, where 20 Republicans would be needed to achieve the two-thirds vote required for conviction.

Ms Pelosi has scheduled a conference call for all House Democrats on Monday to discuss what she called “a grave matter”.

Speaking to reporters in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where she was meeting with political leaders on Friday morning, Ms Pelosi said she would not, as a matter of principle, criticise the president while out of the country.

The New York Times