The committee's focus shifted to subpoenas when it became clear that Attorney General William Barr would ignore a Democratic demand for him to turn over the full report by April 2
The US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee was expected to vote on Wednesday to subpoena Special Counsel Robert Mueller's full, unpredicted report and underlying evidence from his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
If the motion passes, it would be a marked escalation of congressional pressure on the Trump administration to hand over all that Mueller documented during his 22-month probe, including grand jury evidence.
Lawmakers were expected to vote along party lines to authorize the panel's Democratic chairman, Jerrold Nadler, to subpoena Mueller's material, as well as documents and testimony from five former Trump aides, including one-time political advisor Steve Bannon and former White House Counsel Donald McGahn.
The committee's focus shifted to subpoenas when it became clear that Attorney General William Barr would ignore a Democratic demand for him to turn over the full report by April 2. Barr has pledged to share a redacted copy of the nearly 400-page report with Congress and the public by mid-April, if not sooner.
Democrats, who hold a seven-seat majority on the 41-member Judiciary Committee, fear that Barr could use redactions to suppress evidence of potential misconduct by Trump and his campaign that could be vital to their congressional oversight agenda.
Barr's March 24 summary of the Mueller report said the special counsel did not establish that Trump campaign officials conspired with Russia during the presidential election but also did not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice. Barr also said Mueller's team had not found enough proof to warrant bringing obstruction charges against the president.
Trump has long denied any collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice. Moscow says it did not try to interfere in the election, even though US intelligence agencies concluded that it secretly trying to sway US voters in Trump's favour.
New legal front
A subpoena would open a new legal front against the Trump administration by Democrats who won control of the House in last year’s congressional elections. But it is not clear if the Justice Department would simply hand over all the documents they now seek.
The Department could ignore the subpoena, running the risk of being held in contempt of Congress, and prepare for a lengthy battle in the courts.
Democrats have pledged to fight all the way to the US Supreme Court to enforce a subpoena and obtain the full report.
"We need that report turned over. Look at every prior case of independent counsel and special counsel, they've turned over the entire report within a day or two," said Representative Jamie Raskin, a House Judiciary Democrat. "What's taking place here is a sharp break from precedent."
It was not clear when Nadler might start issuing subpoenas, if authorized to do so.
Trump took a dig on Tuesday at Nadler and House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, one of the president's strongest critics in Congress about the Russia investigation.
"There is no amount of testimony or document production that can satisfy Jerry Nadler or Shifty Adam Schiff. It is now time to focus exclusively on properly running our great Country!"
Republicans contend that Barr is being transparent under Justice Department regulations adopted after former President Bill Clinton's impeachment in the 1990s, which allow the attorney general to be circumspect in what he releases. They also contend that Democrats are seeking grand jury material that federal law precludes the Justice Department from sharing.
"It's unfortunate that a body meant to uphold the law has grown so desperate that it's patently misrepresenting the law," Representative Doug Collins, the committee's top Republican, said this week.
The committee was due to meet to consider the subpoena resolution after Nadler and five other Democratic House oversight committee chairs wrote to Barr, giving him one last chance to produce an unpredicted Mueller report.
In addition to McGahn and Bannon, the committee was expected to authorize subpoenas for former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former White House deputy counsel Ann Donaldson.
The five former Trump aides were among 81 people, agencies and other entities that received document requests on March 4 as part of the committee's obstruction and corruption investigation of Trump and his associates.