Pelosi Demands Open Release of Mueller Report

The Speaker says she will reject any attempt to deliver it in a "highly classified" manner.

POLITICO (“Pelosi tells Dems she’ll reject highly classified briefing on Mueller findings“):

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats on Saturday she’ll rebuff any efforts by the Justice Department to reveal details of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in a highly classified setting — a tactic she warned could be employed to shield the report’s conclusions from the public.

Three sources who participated in a conference call among House Democrats said Pelosi (D-Calif.) told lawmakers she worried the Justice Department would seek to disclose Mueller’s conclusions to the so-called Gang of Eight — the top Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate — which handles the nation’s most sensitive secrets. The substance of Gang of Eight briefings are heavily guarded.

“Everyone pounded the transparency drum continuously,” said a source who was on the Saturday afternoon call.

Pelosi said it was her belief that the findings of the report should be unclassified, a consistent theme from Democrats who said they wanted Attorney General William Barr to share virtually every scrap of paper connected to the Mueller report with Congress.

Democrats repeatedly compared their demands for transparency to Republican efforts to obtain intricate details of the FBI’s handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. GOP lawmakers succeeded in obtaining thousands of FBI officials’ text messages connected to the Clinton probe, as well as agent notes, internal emails and thousands of files.

Internal Justice Department guidelines state that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and senior DOJ officials, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, have indicated that the department would not disclose damaging information about individuals who are not indicted. But Democrats have argued that Congress is entitled to such information as part of its own sweeping investigations into obstruction of justice and abuse of power on the part of President Donald Trump.

During the conference call, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) both cited the Clinton precedent as evidence to support their calls for complete transparency.

“Things kind of unfolded very, very quickly yesterday. The primary reason for the call was just to rally the troops,” Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), a member of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, said in an interview Saturday. “While the special counsel’s work appears to be done, our work is not.”

I’m of two minds on this.

To the extent that this is a political matter, I agree with Pelosi one hundred percent. Yesterday morning, I wagered, that Attorney General William “Barr will release a comprehensive summary of the report, if not the entire unredacted report, to the public and Congress very soon—possibly this weekend. Doing otherwise would be seen as a cover-up and Barr will bend over backward to protect the reputation of the DOJ.” Given that the investigation goes to the very legitimacy of President Trump’s election, I continue to think that’s the prudent and right course of action.

As a legal matter—which I must confess, didn’t occur to me before reading the above report—I’m highly sympathetic to the Justice Department’s guidelines against disclosing “damaging information about individuals who are not indicted.”

Having lived through the Iran Contra and Whitewater/Kitchen Sink/Lewinski investigations, I was quite skeptical about the launching of this one.

Given the dizzying number of scandals and brouhahas surrounding this team since it took office—have I mentioned it’s been less than four months?—the appointment of a special counsel was perhaps inevitable. Having lived through the shit shows of Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Whitewater/Lewinski—the latter two since coming of age politically—I’ve dreaded the possibility. The nature of the endeavor is a massive, drawn-out fishing expedition with no real boundaries. The Iran-Contra investigation went on forever, most infamously including an indictment of key officials and damning allegations about George Bush’s conduct as vice president on the eve of his bid to be re-elected president—some six years later. And even those of us who thought Bill Clinton was rightly impeached over his perjury in the Lewinski matter had misgivings about the way Ken Starr’s investigation unfolded.

Alas, given the firing of Comey, an Attorney General who is himself under suspicion, and a Republican Congress that seems content to put the short-term interests of their party over those of their country, there were no good options.

Mueller conducted himself as a quiet professional and I have no reason to think he or his team did anything untoward. But the very nature of their endeavor—a massively funded fishing expedition—means that everyone with the remotest ties to the Trump campaign and Trump organization was thoroughly investigated. It’s not obvious to me why those who were caught up in this dragnet but were found not to have committed indictable offenses should have the sordid details of their lives made public, let alone fed to Congress to be part of a partisan sport.

Now, that concern only extends so far. Given the circumstances, I supported then-FBI Director James Comey’s controversial decision to publicly explain why Hillary Clinton was not being indicted despite wanton disregard for security rules. Given the public controversy over her actions, questions about the independence of the investigation, and the fact that she was seeking to become Commander-in-Chief and thus trusted with the entire national security apparatus, normal considerations of propriety were outweighed by public concern. Likewise, even though President Trump can’t be indicted under DOJ rules and it appears that Donald Jr. and Ivanka won’t be indicted, the findings vis-a-vis their conduct must absolutely be made public, their privacy rights be damned.

That said, Mueller is a bright guy. Surely he’s thought about this issue over the nearly two years he’s been heading the investigation. One imagines he wrote the report in such a way (appendices, perhaps?) that allows a public release of the core document and the shielding of sensitive information about lower-level officials or private citizens found not indictable.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts, Nancy Pelosi, Russia Investigation, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steve says:

    Tons of stuff about Clinton aides and acquaintenaces who were not indictable was released. Why should this case be different? The rules have already been set. Why don’t we follow them?

    Steve

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Steve:

    Tons of stuff about Clinton aides and acquaintenaces who were not indictable was released. Why should this case be different?

    Because we’ve learned that maybe that wasn’t a good practice? Indeed, we let the Independent Counsel statute expire after the Starr investigation and reformulated the practices considerably in coming up with the successor Special Counsel system.

    The rules have already been set. Why don’t we follow them?

    As noted in the POLITICO report and echoed in my post, the rules are precisely the opposite of what you want to happen: that those found not indictable shouldn’t have information released.

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  3. CSK says:

    After a two-day hiatus (this has to be some kind of record), Trump has finally surfaced on Twitter, if only to say to say: “Good Morning, Have A Great Day!” and “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

    I’m not sure why he’s dragging out the campaign slogan again. I’m fairly sure he feels that whatever the report says, it exonerates him.

  4. GL3 says:

    One thing I hope doesn’t happen is that Democratic congressmen (or just Democrats) insist on all the sordid details being released, or get mad if they aren’t, because they’ll perceive a double standard on how the Democrats have been treated in high profile FBI investigations with how Trump might be treated.

    Also, is anyone else getting a bunch of pro-trump ads on youtube?

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  5. Kathy says:

    There’s always the Ellsberg Solution.

  6. Kit says:

    @James Joyner:

    Because we’ve learned that maybe that wasn’t a good practice?

    Just who is we? Have Republicans said this? Are Democrats supposed to yet again be the adults in the room, let this moment go by, then await the day when their peers decide to abuse the system? Again?

    That said, the smart move seems to be to let the report remain secret, to use the secrecy as a cudgel, then to disinfect the entire system with 4+ years of sunshine after the elections.

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  7. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    Because we’ve learned that maybe that wasn’t a good practice? Indeed, we let the Independent Counsel statute expire after the Starr investigation and reformulated the practices considerably in coming up with the successor Special Counsel system.

    I couldn’t disagree more. It is a ridiculous and corrupt application of the confidentiality rule to use it to shield a president who is unindicted solely because of a separate internal DOJ rule. This is banana republic levels of lawlessness.

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  8. Moosebreath says:

    @Kit:

    “Just who is we? Have Republicans said this? Are Democrats supposed to yet again be the adults in the room, let this moment go by, then await the day when their peers decide to abuse the system? Again?”

    This. When Starr’s report was released, it was sent to Congress directly, and they refused requests from the Clinton White House to see the report even an hour ahead of release. And yet we are supposed to have confidence in Barr (who previously wrote that he did not believe Mueller had the authority to look into obstruction of justice issues) as the sole gatekeeper on what gets released not just to the public, but to Congress?

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  9. SenyorDave says:

    At the very least Congress should see the report. It almost has to contain information about possible corruption, just because Mueller and his people didn’t indict it does not mean that the parties are unindictable. It is pretty important that the American people know the substance of this report.

  10. Teve says:

    But the very nature of their endeavor—a massively funded fishing expedition—

    indeed, I heard the investigation cost an astounding 675 million dollars. 😮 😮 😮

  11. Steve says:

    Appreciate your altruism James, but I am not sure we learned the same things. What I think was really learned with Whiewater is that you can stain the opposition badly enough to make it easier to win the following election. The GOP ran 8 investigations on Benghazi just so that they could continuously look for something to harm the Obama administration while also going after Hillary. They managed to have communications from agents selectively released. Why didn’t we see the communications from all agents involved in the Hillary investigation?

    In short, there doesn’t seem to be much downside to altruism in this case. Looks like there is only upside when it comes to winning elections. And the rules seem pretty malleable. It’s like the other team’s pitcher always gets the pitch a foot off the plate as a strike. Now the next team has its pitcher up and we will start calling pitches the way they should have been all along. Remember “when they go low we go high”? How did that turn out?

    Steve

  12. SenyorDave says:

    @Steve: Remember “when they go low we go high”? How did that turn out?

    The endless investigations of Benghazi were in large part responsible for Trump. Here is what Kevin McCarthy said about Benghazi:

    “And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s un-trustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen.”

    I hope the Democrats never forget this, and keep it in mind now that they have subpoena power. If Jared is conducting nuclear power negotiations with Saudi Arabia over WhatsApp, drag his sorry ass before the House and let him explain why. Please, go low for once.

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  13. john430 says:

    The report has to be edited for release! Dare you expose secret intelligence info to the general public? What if it says that Mr Jones, CIA chief in Istanbul notes that Syria helped… Or spy planes over Ukraine saw General so and so…

    I can imagine AOC and her fellow idiots holding Top Secret info and it gives me the night-terrors.

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  14. Jay L Gischer says:

    What I learned from the business about John Yoo and the torture memos was that law is subordinate to politics. We only have a rule of law if the political power supports rule of law. This administration does not support rule of law in its actions or its rhetoric. I’m not sure Trump even understands the concept of rule of law.

    So any argument based on what the proper execution of the law ought to be needs must be subordinate to the political action that is most likely to bring about rule of law.

    If laws and procedures apply to some persons and/or institutions but not to others, there is no rule of law. In a situation such as we find ourselves in, laws are simply weapons in the hands of the powerful. Weapons to damage their opponents and shield themselves. Just as they are trying to use various laws and procedures about classified information to shield themselves.

    Whatever happens, Pelosi is 100% correct to not attend the briefing. This way she will not have recieved information under shield, and can be free to share it later, should she come into possession of it.

  15. James Joyner says:

    @Kit:

    Just who is we? Have Republicans said this?

    The Independent Counsel statute expired in 1999, under a Democratic President and a Republican Congress. We subsequently replaced that set of practices with the current one.

    @Moosebreath:

    This. When Starr’s report was released, it was sent to Congress directly, and they refused requests from the Clinton White House to see the report even an hour ahead of release.

    Again—different statute. We have new rules now, having learned from that episode.

    @Teve:

    I heard the investigation cost an astounding 675 million dollars.

    I’m not complaining about the cost of the investigation, which I conceded was necessary. What I’m noting—which I did at the outset of the investigation—is that giving a Robert Mueller the resources to hire a team of crack investigators and essentially unlimited time means that a lot of people are swept up in it that weren’t intended at the outset. I’m saying that we ought to be very careful with what we do with that information, given the incredibly unusual nature of how it was acquired.

    @Steve:

    What I think was really learned with Whiewater is that you can stain the opposition badly enough to make it easier to win the following election. The GOP ran 8 investigations on Benghazi just so that they could continuously look for something to harm the Obama administration while also going after Hillary.

    Right. I think this is an abuse of governmental power and bad for our democracy.

    @MarkedMan:

    It is a ridiculous and corrupt application of the confidentiality rule to use it to shield a president who is unindicted solely because of a separate internal DOJ rule.

    I specifically excluded Trump, his family, and his senior aides from my objections. They were, properly, the reason the investigation was launched and I think the public interest outweighs and privacy concerns they might have. My concern is for lesser officials and tangential private citizens inevitably caught up in the fishing net.

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  16. Mister Bluster says:

    night-terrors.

    Your boy Trump is in love with the murderous leader of the free people of North Korea yet you fear a strong American woman.

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  17. Guarneri says:

    “Aa legal matter—which I must confess, didn’t occur to me before reading the above report—I’m highly sympathetic to the Justice Department’s guidelines against disclosing “damaging information about individuals who are not indicted.”

    Well how sporting of you. The law matters. Sparkling. Its a felony to release the grand jury information, whether this investigation or others.

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  18. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “I think this is an abuse of governmental power and bad for our democracy.”

    And yet it is happening, right now, with the full support of the Republican establishment.

  19. Andy says:

    I’m of two minds about this. Normally I’d think the AG should follow the law and department rules, but these aren’t normal times.

    There is the Comey-Clinton precedent, but those who make the comparison should realize that Comey only released a summary and explanation relating to Clinton herself – he didn’t release everything, which is now what Democrats are now demanding here. Additionally, it’s inevitable that information will leak anyway, so some disclosure is warranted simply to combat the pernicious effects of politically-motivated leakers.

    So to balance the existing precedent, rules, practicalities, and the other relevant factors this is how I’d split the baby:
    – Err on the side of transparency when it comes to Trump and the other principal public figures. I think the public is owed at least a summary of the evidence and reasons for not issuing indictments analogous to what Comey did with Clinton. Especially when it comes to Russian collusion which is what this investigation was ostensibly about. The further we get away from this nexus the less justification there is to release info IMO.
    – Err on the side of privacy for others – public servants and those who aren’t directly a party to events deserve to be protected from the inevitable circus and outrage since zealous partisans will sort them into friendly or enemy camps with resulting consequences of death threats and doxing. Again Comey didn’t release anything on the evidence and decisions regarding Clinton’s staff, much less all the background and investigatory information.

  20. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    I specifically excluded Trump, his family, and his senior aides from my objections… My concern is for lesser officials and tangential private citizens inevitably caught up in the fishing net.

    Then my apologies for not catching this in your original comment. I change my opinion from “ridiculous” to “agree entirely with the above two statements”

  21. James Joyner says:

    @Guarneri:

    Well how sporting of you. The law matters. Sparkling.

    That’s a weird interpretation, indeed, of what I wrote. That I initially focused on the political reasons for the Attorney General to protect the public confidence in the investigation without thinking through legal reasons to keep parts of the report confidential isn’t tantamount to my initially thinking the law doesn’t matter.

  22. Liberal Capitalist says:

    my .02 fwiw…

    If the document discusses the action of an elected official, then full transparency. Elected officials are employees of the American people and their actions are accountable (whether indictable or not).

    If the actions are of a private citizen, and those actions are not indictable, then publicly released versions of this report should be redacted for those individuals.

    Non-reacted copies should be provided to certain government leaders for review, and then taken back after review. Minor typo changes in the copies would be an identifying tracer.

    In a perfect world, that would work. However, I believe that there will be leaked non-redacted copies of the report in a months time, because, well, that is how those things tend to go in the real world.

  23. john430 says:

    @Mister Bluster: You know this is the stupid stuff Joyner was referring to in the thread about Trollings. It isn’t substantive and and is just an insulting taunt. Come back when you have something intelligent to contribute.

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  24. An Interested Party says:

    Come back when you have something intelligent to contribute.

    As if calling AOC an idiot is such an intelligent contribution…troll, heal thyself…

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  25. wr says:

    @Mister Bluster: “Your boy Trump is in love with the murderous leader of the free people of North Korea yet you fear a strong American woman.”

    Now let’s be fair. I’m sure John is also afraid of a weak American woman. Or a non-American woman. Or any woman.

  26. Mister Bluster says:

    Still Waiting:

    @john430:..the Mueller Report that says NOTHING!

    So you’ve read the Mueller Report!
    Come on Johnny! Give us a link. Post up a copy.
    What have you got to hide?

  27. Gustopher says:

    @SenyorDave:

    I hope the Democrats never forget this, and keep it in mind now that they have subpoena power. If Jared is conducting nuclear power negotiations with Saudi Arabia over WhatsApp, drag his sorry ass before the House and let him explain why. Please, go low for once

    That wouldn’t be going low. That would be doing minimum oversite.

  28. Mister Bluster says:

    Come back when you have something intelligent to contribute.

    OK. You got me. The people of North Korea are not free.