WASHINGTON - Democrats on Sunday immediately seized on special counsel Robert Mueller's refusal to exonerate President Donald Trump on the question of obstruction of justice, with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee pledging to pick up where investigators left off and call Attorney General William Barr to testify.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., whose panel has jurisdiction over impeachment, took to Twitter to highlight Mueller's finding that "while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
Nadler said the statement suggests that Justice Department officials are "putting matters squarely in Congress' court" to continue to investigate.
In light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President, we will be calling Attorney General Barr in to testify before @HouseJudiciary in the near future.— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) March 24, 2019
"In light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President, we will be calling Attorney General Barr in to testify before @HouseJudiciary in the near future," Nadler said in a tweet.
House Democrats, who have faced resistance from the White House to their repeated requests for documents, said Sunday that they will proceed with their multiple investigations while insisting that they need to see Mueller's full report and the underlying documents.
In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Barr's letter "raises as many questions as it answers" and highlighted the fact that Barr was Trump's choice to head the Justice Department.
"The fact that Special Counsel Mueller's report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay," they said. "Given Mr. Barr's public record of bias against the Special Counsel's inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report."
Mueller also found no collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia, a conclusion that took what little wind was left in the sails of Democrats calling for impeachment.
In an interview with The Washington Post this month, Pelosi spelled out a critical precondition for moving toward impeachment proceedings: support from Republicans so that it would be considered a bipartisan movement against Trump, similar to the last days of Richard Nixon's presidency in 1974.
Pelosi said impeachment would be "so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path."
"He's just not worth it," she said of Trump.
Now, after Sunday's findings, Republicans rallied around Trump and signaled that it would take dramatic new discoveries to ever get them to break from the president.
Democrats will face intense pressure from jubilant Republicans, who welcomed Barr's summary and insisted it had cleared the president. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said the report vindicates Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., declared Sunday that "it is time we move on for the good of the nation."
Video: Congressional Democrats on March 22 demanded the release of all underlying evidence in the Russia investigation while Republicans pointed to findings to vindicate President Trump. (JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, predicted Sunday that "we will have a hard fight ahead over release of the full report and materials" but insisted that Democrats are "justified in seeking a broad view of what materials led to (Mueller's) conclusion."
In the House, Judiciary Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., voiced a similar conviction, that "now more than ever, we need to see the Mueller report and all of the underlying evidence."
He added that Barr's "analysis and rationale are fair game for congressional investigation too," pointing out that it was Barr's conclusion, not Mueller's, that Trump had no ill intent behind the evidence that could be considered obstruction of justice.
As for the Mueller report's apparent confidence that Trump and his subordinates had not colluded with Russians to sway the 2016 election, even when presented with the opportunity, Raskin insisted that he had "regarded the question of so-called collusion as an irrelevant distraction from the very beginning."
"There is no crime known as collusion except in the field of antitrust law," he said.
But that doesn't mean Democrats are likely to drop the Russia-focused probe of their Trump investigations.
"The job of the special counsel is very different than our job; they're looking for specific statutory offenses and a quantum of evidence that surpasses beyond a reasonable doubt," Raskin said. "That's very different than what we're looking for in terms of examining threats to the political sovereignty of the United States."
House Judiciary Committee Democrats, scattered across the country, held an emergency conference call Sunday evening to assess the news. The panel will meet on Capitol Hill on Monday.
Some Democrats responded to Sunday's news by immediately questioning Barr's motives, noting that he was appointed by Trump.
Maybe Barr’s interpretation is right. Maybe it’s not. But why the heck would we be ok with an ally of President, appointed because of his hostility to the Mueller investigation, tell us what the report says?— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) March 24, 2019
Give Congress the report. Give the public the report.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also pressed for greater transparency, saying in a tweet that on the issue of obstruction of justice, Mueller "tossed a jump ball, & the AG tipped it to President Trump, but shared none of the information supporting his conclusion."
Earlier Sunday, Democrats maintained that it was too early to raise the possibility of impeaching Trump but suggested that they are keeping their options open, while Republicans fired back that Democrats would probably move to impeach the president no matter what.
On a Sunday morning news shows, Nadler said it is "way too early to speculate" about impeachment. He said he still believes Trump obstructed justice, although "whether they're criminal obstructions is another question."
"What Congress has to do is look at a broader picture. We have the responsibility of protecting the rule of law . . . so that our democratic institutions are not greatly damaged by this president," Nadler said on CNN's "State of the Union."
Democrats will "try to negotiate, we'll try everything else first," but if they have to, they will issue subpoenas and are "absolutely" willing to go to the Supreme Court if necessary to get the Mueller report, Nadler said.
Asked how long they are willing to wait for the Justice Department to provide the full Mueller report, he replied, "It won't be months."
Video: Cruz: Democrats want to impeach Trump for being Trump
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, quickly seized on Nadler's comments, arguing on CNN that they show Democrats are "immediately pivoting away" from the report and plan to move ahead with plans to impeach Trump no matter what.
"They fully intend to impeach the president," Cruz said. "What they're basically saying is they're going to impeach the president for being Donald Trump."
This article was written by Rachael Bade, Felicia Sonmez, Karoun Demirjian and Paul Kane, reporters for The Washington Post.