Senate Republicans say they want “transparency” around the Mueller report — but they keep rejecting a measure that would actually offer it.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on Thursday, once again, blocked a resolution pushing for the public release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. It’s the fifth time Republicans have rejected Democratic efforts to consider the resolution — even as multiple news reports this week questioned how comprehensive Attorney General Bill Barr’s summary of the full report was. The resolution, which is nonbinding, simply urges the public release of the report and notes that it is not calling for the release of any content that is “expressly prohibited by law.”
As Vox’s Ella Nilsen has reported, this resolution overwhelmingly passed the House on a bipartisan basis, 420-0. (It’s worth noting that the House vote took place before Barr’s summary of the report was actually released.) In the Senate, however, multiple Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Paul have moved to bar it from consideration, while Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has called for the report to be released.
Thus far, the only reasons Republicans have given for their position on the resolution haven’t been particularly convincing. While McConnell has said that he’s rejected the measure because he wants to give Barr time to coordinate with the special counsel’s office about how to release additional contents of the report, Democrats have argued that the resolution not only does nothing to prevent him from doing that, it also doesn’t set any deadline for him to follow through.
Meanwhile, both Graham and Paul have not been shy about noting that their objections are heavily “political.” Graham had said he was pushing back against the resolution because he wanted more information about the 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. “I’m just making a political point,” he told the Charleston Post and Courier when he shot down the resolution in mid-March. Paul, meanwhile, called for a review of how the Russia investigation began and why law enforcement officials were looking into the Trump campaign in the first place.
It’s a response that completely deflects from the main — and straightforward issue — that the resolution is trying to address. And the diversion hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I have yet to hear a legitimate policy concern raised by my Republican colleagues who are blocking this bipartisan resolution or trying to bog it down with bizarre partisan amendments,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the latest Democrat to urge a vote on the resolution on Thursday, told Vox in a statement.
There is a slightly more concrete reason some Republicans have highlighted about their reluctance to publish the report: They’re worried that information within it, content that may not fall under the auspices of legal protection, could be released and ultimately detrimental to certain people’s reputations and DOJ norms.
But a big reason Republicans may have not been able to offer any real explanation for why they’re opposing this resolution? They’re doing so to protect President Donald Trump — and they can’t explicitly say that.
Republicans could be worried about other redactions
If the report is ever released in a more comprehensive form, there are expected to be quite a few redactions. Some of these redactions could be for legal reasons, while others might be made in accordance with DOJ norms, as Vox’s Jen Kirby writes:
The Justice Department typically doesn’t release damaging information about people if they’re not charged with any specific crimes, or explain why a matter doesn’t rise to criminal prosecution.
Redactions made to adhere to these norms might not all be legally warranted — and thus, not protected under this particular resolution, Adam White, a law professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, told Vox.
“To the extent the resolution would only redact information that can legally [not] be released, that’s not broad enough,” he said. “My own view of this is that any release should be consistent with Justice Department norms.”
That’s a concern that several Republican lawmakers have also alluded to while protesting the resolution.
“It’s the [attorney general’s] responsibility to go through and protect the reputation of innocent people from being disparaged who weren’t charged with any crime,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters last week. “The resolution doesn’t make any exceptions for that type of information I described, it’s certainly overly broad.”
Democrats argue that this opposition is just a way for Republicans to show they are in lockstep with Trump
Trump has previously said that he, too, would be open to releasing the Mueller report publicly, but his willingness to actually follow through on this push seems to have faltered as more time has passed since the release of Barr’s top-line summary. The administration appears particularly keen on getting a grasp of the specifics in the report before wholeheartedly endorsing true transparency, Warner said.
“So far, the president and his allies have paid lip-service to transparency — heck, even the president said it should be released to the public,” he noted. “Unfortunately, their actions indicate this president has no intention of signing this resolution until he knows what the report actually says about his conduct.”
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are underscoring their support for the president by continuing to thwart Democratic efforts to vote on this resolution.
“There have been some small cracks in the relationship between Trump and House and Senate Republicans, but by continuing to block a simple resolution calling for the release of the Mueller report, Republicans on the Hill are making it very clear that they are still prepared to [do] everything they can to protect the president,” says Jim Manley, a staffer to former Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
There’s certainly a “political calculus” involved in the way lawmakers have responded on both sides of the aisle, White added. For now, it seems, that “calculus” is preventing many Senate Republicans — though not all — from fully supporting any kind of public release of the report.