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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

The post-Russia-report map could be simpler than this DC uproar suggests

House Judiciary CommitteeChairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) waits to

House Judiciary CommitteeChairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) waits to start a committee hearing where Attorney General Robert Barr declined to appear Thursday. Credit: Getty Images/Mark Wilson

By now, the quibbling between the White House and congressional Democrats over the way Attorney General William Barr chose to summarize or spin the 400-plus-page Mueller report seems beside the point.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) is trying to get hold of the full version without redactions. He is threatening to hold the presidentially loyal Barr in contempt if his department "persists in its baseless refusal to comply with a validly issued subpoena."

But you have to wonder what practical  difference lifting the redactions would make to how Congress would then proceed.

Another sideshow is brewing meantime over whether former White House counsel Don McGahn will testify before Congress. McGahn was directly quoted as saying that Trump directed him to seek Mueller's removal, which if he’d acted could have amounted to obstruction of justice. Trump did not testify under oath, and in written responses to the special counsel, said more than 30 times that he didn't recall key events. So hearing from McGahn would be relevant.

But is there a significant next step regarding Russiagate? Congress will at some point decide, whether actively or passively, how to deal with the obstruction question on which Mueller punted. If the answer is yes to obstruction, the House can opt for the obstacle-strewn road toward impeachment. If the answer is no, then Trump might have had a point when he said last week, "They shouldn't be looking anymore. It's done."

Trump, in the meantime, keeps shouting his dark cloak-and-dagger conspiracy theories in a less-than-subtle effort to mar the legitimacy of the already-concluded Mueller probe. 

Thus the probe’s origins remain another sideshow. Last week The New York Times reported that in 2016 Russian election interference alarmed federal officials to the point where they sent an undercover investigator to meet with Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos.

Now Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, is due to report on whether proper procedures were followed. Results could be due in the next few weeks.

As you would expect,any factual shades of gray were lost in Trump's tweet ballyhooing the Times report. "This is bigger than WATERGATE, but the reverse!," he declared, whatever that meant. Trump in the past has called his alleged persecution "spy-gate."

Even before conclusions are reached on the related dramas over redactions, on McGahn's role and on congressional authority, there is already a 448-page report for the proper committees to analyze. That’s enough for lawmakers to get a sense of whether all the post-Mueller theatrics lead anywhere.

Short of impeachment, there may be less dramatic but serious areas for both houses to explore. Should new laws crack down on foreign lobbying, an important theme in Mueller's prosecutions? Should laws governing the assignment of special counsels be altered as they were after Bill Clinton's impeachment? Should the line between a candidate's or president's private fortunes and public role be better defined? 

Noise aside, the options for governance from here on seem relatively clear-cut: Find out more or not, impeach or not, reform the process or not. 

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