Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Democrats Face Dilemma After Mueller Probe Ends
The Hill
03/26/19 06:00 AM EDT  2,249

House Democrats are scrambling to determine their next steps after Attorney General William Barr effectively cleared President Trump and his campaign of allegations of conspiracy with the Russian government in a summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings.

The development has both deflated Democrats and put them on the defensive, forcing them to shift tactics and ratchet up pressure on Barr to release Mueller’s full report, as well as the underlying evidence that shaped it.

“We may still have some responsibility to examine the conduct at issue here, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of criminality,” Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), head of the Democrats’ messaging arm, said Monday on CNN.

Democrats face the challenge of finding the right strategy a little more than 19 months before the presidential election, and with their own party’s primary seemingly running at full steam.

On one hand, they’ll face pressures from a liberal base clamoring for more aggressive oversight of Trump and his inner circle. On the other, they don’t want to overreach and alienate moderate voters as public fatigue over the marathon investigation sets in.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) has fought for months to contain a small but vocal group of Democrats urging that Trump be impeached, suggesting she’d rather defeat the president at the polls in 2020. Mueller’s findings will likely deflate the impeachment push, at least temporarily. But those agitating for Trump’s ouster are vowing to press on, and the release of further details from Mueller’s report could potentially give them a boost.

“House Democrats now have to make a very tough call about how much energy and credibility to pour into the dissection of the Mueller-Barr decisions, while also weighing the political benefits and liabilities of appearing obsessed with proving the president’s culpability,” John Lawrence, Pelosi’s former chief of staff, wrote Monday in The Hill.

Lawrence said the “one clear conclusion” from the reported findings is that “impeachment would be a foolish endeavor for House Democrats.”

“Democrats did not win the majority on a promise to relentlessly pursue Trump,” he wrote. “They won because candidates for Republican seats persuaded voters, long before the Mueller report was issued, that they could be trusted to address tough issues like health care, immigration, campaign finance reform and integrity in government.”

House committee chairmen are pressing forward with sweeping investigations into Trump and his administration that aren’t directly related to Russia, including probing hush money payments made by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

Barr seems certain to be a focal point of Democratic ire, with lawmakers questioning his ability to be a neutral arbiter and criticizing his decision that there was not sufficient evidence in Mueller’s findings to accuse Trump of obstructing justice.

They are demanding that he testify to Congress, and it is possible that Democrats could seek to use a subpoena to compel the Justice Department to turn over Mueller’s report.

Pelosi has also rejected any classified briefings on Mueller’s report from the Justice Department, demanding that they be unclassified so that lawmakers can discuss them publicly.

Democrats are zeroing in on a statement from the special counsel’s report included in Barr’s letter that Mueller’s documentation, while not recommending obstruction charges, “also does not exonerate” Trump from those allegations.

In his summary of Mueller’s findings, Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had examined the obstruction question and found the evidence “not sufficient to establish” that Trump obstructed justice. In order to gain a conviction on obstruction of justice, a prosecutor must establish that the perpetrator acted with “corrupt intent” to impede an official proceeding.

But Democrats are unconvinced. In 2018, Barr, then a private citizen, had penned an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department and White House arguing that Trump could not be charged with obstruction in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, since the president has the clear power to do so. Investigating obstruction, Barr warned, “would do lasting damage to the presidency and to the administration of law within the executive branch.”

“Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report,” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) said following the release of Barr’s letter.

Barr is not explicitly challenging demands for the public release of Mueller’s report, which have come from both sides of the political aisle. However, he has signaled parts will need to be kept from public view to comply with the law.

The White House could also raise issues of executive privilege with some of its contents, though Trump on Monday said it “wouldn’t bother” him if the Justice Department released the report publicly.

Democrats could take issue if Barr redacts large portions of the public version of the report. They’ve also intimated they will have little patience if the Justice Department takes time to process it.

Barr signaled Sunday he will “move forward expeditiously in determining what can be released” after identifying all grand jury material and information related to ongoing probes.

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