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Bolstered By Mueller Synopsis, Republicans Go On Offense Over Investigations

President Trump returns to the White House on Sunday in Washington, D.C., after the attorney general had provided Congress and the public with a summary of the Mueller report.
Eric Baradat
AFP/Getty Images
President Trump returns to the White House on Sunday in Washington, D.C., after the attorney general had provided Congress and the public with a summary of the Mueller report.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has given the Trump Train a shot of rocket fuel, the president's allies say, and now Republicans want to turn that momentum into payback.

President Trump suggested on Monday that he wants new investigations into the workings of the FBI and Justice Department and his political opponents.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he wants to know more about "the other side of the story," including former President Bill Clinton's infamous meeting on the airport tarmac with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch in 2016.

And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has lost his credibility and should step down from that post.

There's still more action to come from the Justice Department as part of its Russia investigation, but the White House and supporters appear to feel a page has turned in their favor.

The Democratic leaders of several House committees, meanwhile, including judiciary, intelligence, oversight and others, asked Attorney General William Barr on Monday to turn over Mueller's report and underlying evidence and documents by April 2.

Barr has said he'll release as much of the Mueller findings as he can once the report has been scrubbed for grand jury material, intelligence, information that could impact other ongoing DOJ matters and other sensitive material, but it wasn't immediately clear whether he would meet that deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blocked a resolution on Monday that would have called on Barr to release the Mueller report to the public, explaining that he believes Barr needs more time to process it in order to deal withe sensitive information Barr flagged in his letter to Congress Sunday.

The president was in a good mood. Trump went so far as to agree when asked on Monday if Mueller — the man he accused of being hopelessly biased and running a "witch hunt" made up of "angry Democrats" — had run the Russia investigation honorably.

Yes, Trump said, but this story is not about him anymore. Now the president said he wants some investigations of his own.

"We've had very bad things happen and those people are certainly to be looked at," he said. "I've been looking at it for a long time and I'm saying, 'Why haven't they been looked at?' They lied to Congress, and many of them, you know who they are. They've done so many evil things."

Trump didn't specify whom he wanted to be "looked at," but the remarks followed years of calls in his political rallies to prosecute Hillary Clinton and, more recently, to look into the FBI and Justice Department officials who were involved with the investigation of her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

The FISA warrant

Other targets for Trump and his allies are the investigators and lawyers who asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for authorization in 2016 to collect the communications of a onetime junior campaign adviser named Carter Page. The court approved the surveillance.

The FBI called Page an agent of a foreign power in its application and sought, and received, extensions to the surveillance, which suggested that it was yielding foreign intelligence.

But Page always has maintained he has done nothing wrong, and he has not been charged with any crime. Barr wrote to members of Congress on Sunday that no more indictments are forthcoming from Mueller's office.

Some of the information cited in the original application came from the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, whose work was underwritten by Democrats during the presidential campaign in search of information about Trump's ties in Russia.

Steele also compiled the infamous, partly unverified dossier about Trump that has been the basis of so much back-and-forth since it was published in early 2017 — and which now appears to have been undercut following Mueller's conclusion.

So Graham said on Monday that Washington must return its focus to that storyline because of what he said it may reveal about the abuse of power by the administration of President Barack Obama.

"I am 100 percent convinced that if the Republican Party had hired Mr. Steele to go to Russia and investigate Clinton and the report was prepared and given to the Department of Justice — and you used a warrant against a Clinton associate and the underlying information in the dossier proved to be garbage, everybody in the world would have it on the front page," Graham said.

Members of Congress have a duty to resolve this and the other threads from the Mueller era, Graham suggested.

"It's, at a minimum, disturbing. Whether or not it's illegal, I don't yet know so I am going to get answers to this," Graham also said.

Schiff faulted over collusion claim

On the other side of the Capitol, Republicans in the House blamed Democrats who now wield the chamber's majority — and, in particular, Schiff — for fanning the flames of a collusion storyline they say Mueller has now debunked.

Schiff and other members of his committee, as well as some Senate Democrats, have said they viewed the evidence that had become public as sufficient to convince them they had seen "collusion."

One example was the meeting in June 2016 at which Donald Trump Jr. hosted a Russian delegation after he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Democrats called that an obvious example. Republicans pointed to denials by Trump Jr. that he received anything of real value or that he took any action after the meeting with what he received.

The Mueller milestone on Sunday makes it appear as though Trump Jr. will not be prosecuted and so McCarthy, leader of House Republicans, said there should be consequences for Schiff.

"He should apologize to the American public and he should step back from being chair of the intel committee," McCarthy told Fox News.

Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, also asked for Schiff to apologize.

And the White House's deputy communications director, Adam Kennedy, told NPR on Monday that Schiff and others "were not just completely wrong, they were misleading the public about what the president had done and they deserve to be held accountable for that."

Democrats attempt to regroup

Schiff's chairmanship of the House intelligence committee did not appear in danger. He retains the confidence of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the members of the committee, but Barr's Sunday letter also prompted at least one big change of plans for Democrats.

Schiff's committee had scheduled a hearing for Wednesday with Felix Sater, a onetime business associate of Trump and his then-attorney, Michael Cohen, who was involved with the negotiations over a potential Trump Tower Moscow real estate project in 2015 and 2016.

But that was postponed, a spokesman said, in light of the completion of Mueller's work.

Explained the committee:

In light of the cursory letter from the attorney general, and our need to understand special counsel Mueller's areas of inquiry and evidence his office uncovered, we are working in parallel with other committees to bring in senior officials from the DOJ, FBI and SCO to ensure that our committee is fully and currently informed about the SCO's investigation, including all counterintelligence information. With the focus on those efforts this week, we are postponing Mr. Sater's open interview.

Pelosi, Schiff and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., also said they thought Americans must reserve their judgment about Trump and the special counsel investigation until Mueller's actual work product becomes available.

Barr's letter to Congress on Sunday, they said, raised more questions than it answered. The speaker and the Democratic leaders in the House not only want to review what the special counsel submitted to DOJ — as compared with the synopsis they received from Barr — they want to hear from Barr himself.

Nadler said he plans on scheduling a public hearing soon to question the attorney general.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.