In January, we praised U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley for demanding full release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russians’ intervention in the 2016 presidential election.
At the time, the report hadn’t been finished and there was a lot of angst about whether the public would see it.
Grassley’s demand, in concert with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., was a welcome sign. Sure, there was a section that allowed for the Justice Department to withhold certain information according to federal rules of procedure. But the overall message, written into the bill, was clear: The public had a right to see the report and "all factual findings and underlying evidence.”
Well now, the White House and congressional Democrats are locked in a battle over the House Judiciary Committee’s pursuit of such underlying evidence. Last week, the president claimed executive privilege over the documents the committee was seeking and the Democrat-run panel responded by voting to ask the full House to find Attorney General William Barr in contempt for not complying with the subpoena.
In all likelihood, this is headed to the courts. Our hope is the courts will tilt to the side of openness.
About six weeks ago, the Justice Department released a redacted copy of the 448-page Mueller report, and we have seen over the last week an attempt by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to declare this whole matter closed.
Of course, that won’t happen. Democrats control the House, and they have made clear this is not over.
Nobody should be surprised at this. Frankly, we want to see Robert Mueller testify. We think Americans are owed an explanation as to why he punted on the question of whether the president broke the laws pertaining to obstruction of justice.
Mueller made clear he could not establish that the president conspired with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election. But he also made clear he was neither accusing nor exonerating the president of the crime of obstruction.
Our sense has always been that this is exactly the kind of decision that Mueller and his team were hired to make.
Mueller has cited a Justice Department opinion saying a president can’t be indicted while in office. But, we have to ask, what then was this part of the investigation for? To simply throw it into the dysfunctional political realm denies the country the kind of unbiased, professional opinion we expect from special counsels.
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At any rate, exploring these issues face to face with Mueller would be beneficial to the entire country — if only to explore the limitations of the laws pertaining to special counsels.
Republicans also could ask their own questions about the origins of the investigation.
We find it unfortunate that the Trump administration has taken a hard line stand on congressional subpoenas. The president tweeted that all would be opposed.
We think this is the wrong tack. Congress has the duty to perform oversight; that is partly how we get transparency. Grassley, for example, has been one of the most aggressive practitioners of this duty. It irritated Democrats when Barack Obama was president, but he was within his rights to do it.
It’s certainly true that other administrations have resisted congressional demands for information, but they have not refused to cooperate entirely.
The Trump administration complains that Democrats are using their subpoena power to have an effect on the 2020 election. We have no doubt about that. But that’s not exactly unheard of. Just ask Hillary Clinton.
The more important point here is that, as much as we should try to insulate this process from politics, it is in the public’s interest to get as much information as possible upon which to judge how our government functions.
We believe that's the case with all government, whether it's City Hall, the Statehouse or Washington, D.C.
As much as these questions continue to divide our nation — and they do — we believe as much sunlight on these matters is what serves the country best.
That can begin with Mueller testifying and the White House and Congress resolving the dispute over releasing redacted material, hopefully outside of court but before a judge if necessary.
Ultimately, we believe the presumption should be on the side of disclosure.