The head of the House Judiciary Committee on Monday announced that his panel had reached an agreement with the Department of Justice to obtain key underlying evidence from the Mueller report, staving off an imminent court battle over access to the files.
Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement he will “hold the criminal contempt process in abeyance for now” amid the Justice Department’s cooperation, noting that lawmakers will be able to begin reviewing the first of these documents later Monday.
“All members of the Judiciary Committee — Democrats and Republicans alike — will be able to view them,” Nadler said in a statement.
The full House is still expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution that would authorize Nadler to go to court to enforce the subpoena issued to Attorney General William Barr for special counsel Robert Mueller's full report and underlying evidence.
But Nadler's statement Monday signals he will not go to court immediately to enforce the subpoena.
Nadler said Monday he would allow the Justice Department time to “demonstrate compliance” with the agreement but did not completely shut the door on moving forward with criminal contempt.
“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. If important information is held back, then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies,” Nadler said.
“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,” Nadler continued.
The resolution up for a House vote on Tuesday will also target former White House counsel Don McGahn, and would give House chairmen rare powers to go to court to enforce their subpoenas amid what Democrats describe as unfounded and unprecedented stonewalling by President Trump and his administration.
The developments represent a sudden and unexpected breakthrough in negotiations between the Judiciary Committee and the Trump administration over access to Mueller’s documents. Discussions between the parties stalled dramatically early last month after the panel voted along party lines to hold Barr in contempt for failing to comply with the subpoena and Trump asserted executive privilege over Mueller’s report on the attorney general’s recommendation.
The Justice Department said last week it would revive negotiations with Nadler’s panel over the subpoenaed materials if he removed “any threat of an imminent vote by the House of Representatives to hold the Attorney General in contempt.”
But Nadler appeared to reject the appeal and urged the Justice Department to return to the negotiating table “without conditions.”
At a hearing focused on the Mueller report later Monday, Nadler said the documents the Justice Department has agreed to produce include "interview notes, first-hand accounts of misconduct, and other critical evidence" from the special counsel's investigation.
Nadler first issued a subpoena for Mueller’s report and underlying evidence after Barr released a redacted version of the report in mid-April.
Barr had offered to allow a select group of lawmakers, Nadler included, to view a minimally redacted version of the report in a secure room provided they keep its contents secret, however Democrats have rejected that offer as too limited.
The Justice Department has made some counteroffers to the committee but declined to provide the materials sought by the subpoena, saying turning over the full report — including grand jury material — and underlying evidence would amount to Barr violating the law and would risk compromising ongoing investigations.
“We are pleased the Committee has agreed to set aside its contempt resolution and is returning to the traditional accommodation process," Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement on Monday. "The Department of Justice remains committed to appropriately accommodating Congress’s legitimate interests related to the Special Counsel’s Investigation and will continue to do so provided the previously voted-upon resolution does not advance.”
Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), the top Republican on the committee, praised the Justice Department for making the accommodations, while hitting Nadler for finally accepting their offers to provide additional information about the Mueller report.
“The Justice Department has yet again offered accommodations to House Democrats, and I am glad Chairman Nadler — for the first time in months — has finally met them at the negotiating table,” Collins said in a statement.
“Is the chairman prepared to rescind his baseless recommendation to hold the attorney general in contempt, or do House Democrats still plan to green light lawsuits against the attorney general and former White House counsel tomorrow?” he continued.