The Trump administration has buckled and agreed to hand over to Democrats in Congress evidence upon which Robert Mueller prepared his Russia report.
On a day that Democrats on the House judiciary committee were set to hear from former Watergate lawyer John Dean about the report, and day before they considered whether to pursue attorney general William Barr for contempt, the department of justice announced it would provide the background material on which the special counsel based his 448-page report.
Democrats, led by judiciary committee chairman congressman Jerry Nadler, have for weeks been seeking an unredacted copy of the report and the background material.
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Last month, the committee voted to hold Mr Barr, and former White House counsel Don McGahn, in contempt for failing to cooperate and, in the case of Mr Barr, provide the information they requested. The full House had been scheduled to vote on Tuesday on whether to proceed; if the House voted yes, it would authorise a civil lawsuit against the attorney general.
Barely 24 hours before that vote was due to go ahead, the department of justice announced it was providing the materials sought by Democrats, perhaps the first sign that the “maximum pressure” tactics being utilised against Mr Trump may be working. He had previously told the White House to resist all requests for materials or testimony from officials, claiming Democrats were continuing what he termed a “witch hunt”
It was not immediately clear how much material the department had agreed to hand over, following weeks of tense sparring between the administration and senior Democrats.
But Democrats said they were for now suspending plans to press ahead with a contempt vote.
“I am pleased to announce the department of justice has agreed to begin complying with our committee’s subpoena by opening Robert Mueller’s most important files to us, providing us with key evidence that the special counsel used to assess whether the president and others obstructed justice or were engaged in other misconduct,” Mr Nadler said in a statement.
“It is critical that Congress is able to obtain the information we need to do our jobs, ensuring no one is above the law and bringing the American public the transparency they deserve.”
The New York Times pointed out that although the Democrats had pulled back from their threat to vote on whether to file a lawsuit against Mr Barr, they still intended to vote to authorise Mr Nadler’s committee to go to court to seek full enforcement of its subpoena “and to petition a judge to unseal grand jury secrets”.
“If the Department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need, then there will be no need to take further steps,” added Mr Nadler, who reportedly wishes to push for the impeachment of Mr Trump but is being held back by House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“If important information is held back, then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies.”
Mr Mueller two year probe of Russia’s actions and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, found no evidence of a conspiracy between Moscow and members of the president’s team.
On the question of obstruction of justice, Mr Mueller said the team was unable to exonerate the president and that prosecutors were unable – because of longstanding department of justice guidelines – to consider indicting a sitting president. Mr Barr and his then deputy Rod Rosenstein, decided there was insufficient evidence to charge Mr Trump.