WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to authorize a subpoena to require Attorney General William Barr to release special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and its underlying documents without redactions.
The authorization passed in a party-line 24-17 vote, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing it following a vigorous debate. It sets up a potential constitutional clash between Congress and the White House that could end up in court.
Democrats voted to give Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), the committee chairman, authority to issue a subpoena a day after Barr missed a Tuesday deadline they set for delivering the nearly 400-page report. Barr said it would be ready by mid-April, if not sooner.
The Justice Department did not respond to a query about its response to the vote.
Nadler said he had urged Barr to work with the committee to go to court and obtain access to legally protected grand jury materials in the report and supporting evidence, but the attorney general has so far refused.
“I will give him time to change his mind. But if we cannot reach an accommodation, then we will have no choice but to issue subpoenas for these materials,” Nadler said.
“And if the Department still refuses, then it should be up to a judge — not the president or his political appointee — to decide whether or not it is appropriate for the committee to review the complete record,” he said.
Afterward, Nadler told reporters that he won't negotiate over any redactions, saying, "The committee must see everything."
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the top committee Republican, and his colleagues objected, saying Nadler was jumping the gun in seeking a subpoena before Barr releases his report. They complained he had set an arbitrary deadline to get the report before Congress begins a recess after next week.
Collins accused Democrats of “desperately searching for something on the president.” He added, “This is reckless. It’s irresponsible and it’s disingenuous.”
The motion Democrats passed also authorized Nadler to issue subpoenas for documents and testimony from five former Trump aides: strategist Stephen Bannon, communications director Hope Hicks, chief of staff Reince Priebus, White House counsel Donald McGahn and his chief of staff Ann Donaldson.
Barr released a four-page summary of the principal conclusions of the nearly two-year Russia investigation two days after Mueller submitted his report on March 22. On Friday he said he would send Congress a redacted version soon.
But Barr said regulations require him to black out grand jury material, sensitive intelligence information, matters Mueller referred to other prosecutors, and other materials to protect privacy of individuals peripheral to the investigation.
Nadler argued that Congress, not Barr, should review the report as submitted and decide what should be withheld before its public release. Some other Democrats have said the public should see the unredacted report.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) warned of “unintended consequences” of the subpoena, arguing that making the unfiltered report public risks politicizing or chilling future special counsel investigations by inhibiting the creation of a candid report.
Buck proposed an amendment that would block release of the report's grand jury material as required by law but it failed on a party-line 24-16 vote.
Republicans accused Nadler of hypocrisy for demanding full release of Mueller’s report after arguing in 1998 for the withholding of grand jury and salacious materials in the public version of the Starr Report on President Bill Clinton.
Nadler said he was being consistent by insisting in both cases that Congress should decide on redactions in the final public version.
The Judiciary Committee's authorization of a subpoena is the latest example of House Democrats' aggressive oversight of Trump. The Oversight Committee on Tuesday approved and served four subpoenas in its probe of security clearances and how a question about citizenship ended up in the Census.