The game of brinkmanship continues between the executive branch and congressional Democrats as the Department of Justice strikes a deal with the House Intelligence Committee over the production of documents related to the special counsel report. News of the agreement comes as committee leader Adam Schiff (D-CA) prepared, on May 22, to convene a meeting on “enforcement action” against attorney general William Barr.
The DOJ has agreed to furnish the Intel Committee with 12 sets of counterintelligence documents referred to by Robert Mueller in his final report. DOJ spokesman Kerri Kupec released a statement saying: “We appreciate the continued dialogue with the Committee and look forward to working towards appropriately accommodating their requests.”
The so-called “enforcement action” would likely have been a vote on holding the AG in contempt for refusing to hand over a completely unredacted copy of the Mueller report and all underlying documents.
Dems and DOJ Reach Agreement
Schiff had already issued a subpoena for all the material relating to the special counsel investigation of Russia’s interference activities during the 2016 election. That subpoena will remain in place, Schiff said, though he postponed the enforcement meeting. The chairman expects to begin receiving the agreed upon material within about 12 days.
The Trump administration has been hit with a staggering number of subpoenas from House Democrats, covering just about every aspect of the administration’s activities, as well as the president’s personal business and finances.
Although AG Barr expedited the release of the Mueller report with minimal redactions – even though there was no legal obligation for him to do so – Democrats have portrayed him as obstructionist. The fact that Democrats were going to claim the president is orchestrating a cover-up was obvious from the moment Mueller’s report was released and it was clear that no co-operation between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian officials had been uncovered. Barr has been accused of aiding the president in this alleged cover-up.
On May 22, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) directly accused the president of being engaged in a cover-up, though it is far from clear what Trump is supposed to be covering up. The special counsel report was initially released with very few redactions, and Trump had absolutely no control over what parts of the report were kept from the public view. A second and even less-redacted copy of the report has since been made available to Congress but Democrats have declined to read it.
The Impeachment Time-Bomb
Shortly before her explosive accusation, Pelosi met with a group of congressional Democrats to discuss the impeachment of the president. It appears the speaker is being pushed toward allowing articles of impeachment to be introduced in the House. Such a move would have enormous political consequences – none of them good for Democrats.
Once articles of impeachment are voted on, Democrats would no longer be able to justify continuing their numerous investigations of the president. The opposition party has one shot at impeaching Trump; if the Senate were to acquit the president – which it obviously would – the war between Trump and congressional Democrats would be over, with Trump declaring ultimate victory. To continue investigating the president after impeachment proceedings are concluded would be political suicide for Democrats.
A number of political observers are describing the Democrats’ current strategy as a sort of “soft” impeachment, essentially beginning the process of preparing articles of impeachment without actually making it official. In the meantime, the Trump administration continues resisting Democrats’ demands, most recently refusing to allow former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify before Congress.
No doubt, House Democrats will continue to increase the pressure on the Justice Department as the latter ramps up its investigations into the origins of the Russia collusion story. Barr has avoided contempt proceedings for the time being though it seems likely that, at some point, he will indeed be held in contempt. Perhaps Democrats are assuming they will be able to bring a halt to the DOJ investigation by charging the AG. Given the recent history of contempt of Congress charges, that is an extremely misguided assumption.
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