Justice agrees to release key Mueller evidence to Congress
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has agreed to turn over some of the underlying evidence from special counsel Robert Mueller's report, including files used to assess whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Monday.
In the first breakthrough in weeks of negotiations over the report, Rep. Jerrold Nadler said the department will begin complying with the committee's subpoena on Monday and provide some of Mueller's "most important files." He said all members of the committee will be able to view them.
The Justice Department did not have an immediate comment.
In response to the agreement, Nadler said Democrats would not vote on holding Attorney General William Barr in criminal contempt, for now. Instead, the House will vote Tuesday on a resolution that would empower the Judiciary Committee to file a civil lawsuit for Mueller materials.
"We have agreed to allow the Department time to demonstrate compliance with this agreement," Nadler said in a statement. "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."
The deal is unlikely to give Democrats all of what they were requesting — including an unredacted version of the report and secret grand jury testimony. But it is the first agreement that the Judiciary Committee has been able to strike with the department since the report was issued in April.
The news came shortly before Democrats began the first in a series of hearings intended to focus public attention on the findings of the Russia investigation. John Dean, a star witness from Watergate who helped bring down Richard Nixon's presidency, will testify Monday. The hearing, which will also feature former U.S. attorneys, is on "presidential obstruction and other crimes."
Dean, a White House counsel during Nixon's administration, told CNN on Monday that he'll describe "how strikingly like Watergate what we're seeing now, as reported in the Mueller report, is." He said he'll pay particular attention to the question of whether Trump obstructed justice.
The slate of televised sessions on Mueller's report means a new, intensified focus on the Russia probe and puts it on an investigative "path" — in the words of anti-impeachment Speaker Nancy Pelosi — that some Democrats hope leads to Trump's impeachment. In doing so, they are trying to aim a spotlight on allegations that Trump sought to obstruct a federal investigation as well as 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 testifying.
Monday's hearing is the start of three days of Russia-related action on Capitol Hill. 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 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.
Barr had 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.