CT Dems seek full Mueller report, chart new path on Trump

March 26, 2019 GMT

WASHINGTON — Connecticut Democratic lawmakers are pushing for release of the full report of special counsel Robert Mueller.

But they are also looking toward other investigative avenues involving President Donald Trump, mindful that Democrats face potential voter blowback if their probes appear to be purely partisan.

“The president is far from out of the woods,” said Rep. Jim Himes, a member of two House committees — Financial Services and Intelligence — that will pursue investigations involving Trump.

Even so, Himes said, “we also need to make progress for the American people on jobs, retirement and health care.”

Mueller last Friday delivered a long-awaited report on his nearly two-year probe of Trump 2016 campaign connections to Russia.

In a four-page summary delivered Sunday to Congress, Attorney General William Barr wrote that Mueller had concluded that Trump and his staff did not conspire with Russia to help Trump beat Democratic contender Hillary Clinton.

But on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice to thwart investigators, Barr quotes Mueller as saying: “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr’s interpretation

Barr said he and Rod Rosenstein, who supervised the Mueller probe before Barr won Senate confirmation last month, decided not to pursue an obstruction case, which would have been based primarily on Trump firing then FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 and then telling a television interviewer that he as bothered by “this Russia thing.”

As a private lawyer, Barr last year wrote a memo in which he argued that the president cannot be charged with obstruction for actions that are within his powers as chief of the executive branch. He called Mueller’s inquiry “fatally misconceived.”

“Why should we accept an interpretation of the Mueller report by an attorney general who was appointed by the president for his hostility to the investigation?” Sen. Chris Murphy said Monday during a roundtable on gun violence at New Britain High School. “Maybe Barr is right, maybe he’s wrong, but that’s up to Congress to decide.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, himself a former Connecticut state attorney general and U.S. attorney, also cast doubt on whether Barr can be trusted to correctly interpret the Mueller report.

“Barr is a Trump appointee,” he said. “What is necessary is for the American people to see the full report with all the underlying facts and evidence — and not just the Barr summary or some other abridged version.”

Proposed change

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Monday called for passage of legislation that would require full release of the Mueller report. Blumenthal introduced such a resolution in January with a Republican co-sponsor, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa. It would require release of any special counsel report to Congress and the public when an investigation is complete, or the counsel resigns or is fired.

Blumenthal on Monday said that release of the Mueller report is “key.”

“No intelligent reaction is possible without the Mueller report and the underlying facts and evidence,” he said.

Among the issues not addressed so far is why Mueller did not compel the president to answer questions under oath. After negotiations with Trump’s lawyers, Mueller agreed to let the White House answer written questions in place of an interview.

Since criminal intent is a part of any obstruction inquiry, direct questioning of Trump would have been a necessary step to determine whether charges were warranted, Blumenthal said.

“The American people want transparency,” he said, noting that Trump himself on Monday said release of the report “wouldn’t bother me at all.”

During a meeting Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump portrayed himself as victim of a probe he frequently denounced as a “witch hunt.”

In apparent reference to Democrats, Trump said that “those people are to be looked at.”

“They’ve done so many evil things,” he said. “It was a false narrative, it was a terrible thing. We can never let this happen to another president again.”

Himes said: “It’s fair to say the president has been cleared on the part about conspiracy with Russians. I always said a Hollywood ending, with suitcases changing hands, was unlikely.”

The House Financial Services Committee and the House intelligence committee will continue to probe different aspects of Trump’s financial entanglements and his conduct in office. Among them: The role of Deutsche Bank in financing various Trump projects and whether Trump has benefited financially as president, for instance, through his Washington hotel near the White House used as a virtual watering hole by foreign officials and business executives seeking to cozy up to Trump.

But ultimately, Democrats run the risk of losing public support if they focus too heavily on Trump and not enough on the needs of everyday Americans.

“I don’t give Democrats and A-plus for the last three months on kitchen-table issues,” said Himes, a centrist and former chairman of the center-leaning New Democrat Coalition.