The top Democrats in the US House of Representatives and Senate on Thursday called on Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify publicly about his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer criticised Attorney General William Barr for writing what they called a “slanted” summary letter and for planning a press conference to immediately follow the expected release of the report detailing the probe’s findings on Thursday.
“We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement.
The spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.
Pelosi has also said Barr had “thrown out his credibility and the DOJ’s independence with his single-minded effort to protect” President Donald Trump. And Schumer said, “The process is poisoned before the report is even released.”
Barr on March 24 sent a four-page letter to politicians detailing Mueller’s “principal conclusions” including that the 22-month probe did not establish that Trump’s 2016 campaign team conspired with Russia. Barr said he found insufficient evidence in Mueller’s report to conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice, though the special counsel did not make a formal finding one way or the other on that.
Thursday’s release of the redacted report is certain to launch a new political fight spilling into the halls of Congress and the 2020 presidential campaign trail.
Barr has pledged to testify publicly about the report’s conclusions before the Senate and House judiciary committees – on May 1 and 2, respectively. The Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee voted on April 3 to empower its chairman, Jerrold Nadler, to issue subpoenas for the full report and underlying evidence.
Late on Wednesday, Nadler said Barr “appears to be waging a media campaign” on behalf of Trump.
He said the attorney general’s decision to hold a Thursday morning news conference, before releasing a redacted version of Mueller’s report to Congress, will “again result in the report being presented through his own words”.
He warned that if the report is heavily redacted, the committee will issue subpoenas “in short order”.
The release marks a watershed moment in Trump’s presidency, promising new details about some of the biggest questions in the probe, including the extent and nature of his campaign’s contacts with Russia and actions Trump may have taken to hinder the inquiry including his 2017 firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Copies of the report will be delivered to Capitol Hill more than an hour later, between 11am and noon (15:00-16:00 GMT), a senior DOJ official said. The delay in seeing the report sparked Democratic complaints that Barr, a Trump appointee, wanted to shape the public’s views during his news conference before others had a chance to draw their own conclusions.
Mueller’s investigation, which Trump has called a “witch hunt”, raised questions about the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency and laid bare what the special counsel and US intelligence agencies have described as a Russian operation to derail Democrat Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and elevate Trump, the Kremlin’s preferred candidate.
Some Democrats have spoken of launching impeachment proceedings against Trump in Congress, allowed under the US Constitution to remove a president from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours”, but top Democrats have been notably cautious.
Mueller charged 34 people and three Russian companies. Those who were convicted or pleaded guilty included figures close to Trump such as his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, personal lawyer Michael Cohen and NSA Michael Flynn.