Republican, Democrat introduce Senate bill to aid public release of Mueller report
Posted January 28, 2019 5:13 p.m. EST
Updated January 29, 2019 12:06 p.m. EST
CNN — A bipartisan Senate duo has introduced new legislation that would require special counsel Robert Mueller to provide a summary of his findings to Congress and the public.
The new legislation unveiled Monday from Sens. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, would streamline the public release of a report detailing special counsel Robert Mueller's findings, removing the decision from the attorney general who now decides what happens once Mueller wraps up his investigation.
The special counsel is currently instructed, according to Justice Department regulations, to submit to the attorney general a report detailing decisions made to prosecute or not prosecute during the investigation. The attorney general has the discretion to decide whether to provide the report, or portions of it, to Congress and the public, or to withhold it entirely. The new legislation would require a report from the special counsel to be provided to Congress and the public.
Lawmakers in both parties have said they think Mueller's findings should ultimately be released to the public, and this bill may make it easier for the Justice Department to do so without facing backlash from the White House or a fight over executive privilege.
"Our legislation would guarantee that every special counsel does a report complete with findings and evidence -- and that it be directly disclosed to Congress and the American people," Blumenthal said in a statement. "A report would be required whenever a special counsel finishes the investigation, is fired, or resigns, assuring that the results cannot be sealed or selectively censored."
William Barr, President Donald Trump's nominee to be the next attorney general, has said he wants to make as much of the Mueller report public as he can, but also suggested he has to abide by Justice Department regulations and might not be able to make the full report public, saying at his confirmation hearing he would "provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law."
The new legislation also sets parameters for the special counsel's report. In addition to disclosing prosecution decisions, it tells the special counsel to detail "the factual findings of the investigation, including any underlying evidence." A classified annex can also be included in the report sent to Congress that would not be made public.
Given that Grassley has signed onto the bill, it already has the imprimatur of bipartisan support from a senior GOP senator — one already on the record for pushing for transparency from the special counsel's final report. But its fate is ultimately likely to rest with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who last year blocked bipartisan legislation that Grassley had also endorsed that would have protected the special counsel from being fired.
The special counsel bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, but McConnell did not bring it to the floor. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the new Judiciary Committee chairman who succeeded Grassley, has suggested he will bring that bill back up in the new Congress.
This legislation is different from the bill to protect the special counsel, which McConnell opposed in part because of concerns of constitutionality and fear the President would simply veto the measure. The new bill, on the other hand, would essentially provide clearer rules of the road for the Justice Department in how to handle the special counsel's findings — something that remains controversial, as underscored by Barr's testimony earlier this month.
Senate aides said that the bill was something that was discussed while the Judiciary Committee debated legislation to protect the special counsel in the last Congress. The new bill focuses only on the transparency portion of that legislation, removing the constitutionality obstacle that prompted McConnell and other Republicans to object to the broader protection measure. A Senate Democratic aide said the new bill from Blumenthal and Grassley is a supplemental piece of legislation that addresses a separate problem than the special counsel protection bill.