By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution on Thursday calling for Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s upcoming report on his probe into Russia‘s role in the 2016 election to be released to Congress and the public.
The 420-0 House vote, with four conservative Republican lawmakers voting “present,” put pressure on U.S. Attorney General William Barr, to whom Mueller will submit the report when it is done, to make it public, though it does not force him to do so.
Mueller has been investigating since May 2017 whether Trump‘s campaign conspired with Moscow and whether the president has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction. Russia has denied election interference. Mueller has not indicated when he will complete the report.
Justice Department regulations governing the appointment of special counsels give Barr latitude in deciding how much of the report to made public. Those rules require him to notify the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate judiciary committees after Mueller completes his probe.
The rules do not require release of the report, but also do not explicitly prevent Barr from giving the entire document to Congress.
It was not clear whether the Senate, controlled by Trump‘s fellow Republicans, will take up the measure. Bipartisan Senate legislation calling for the report to be made public has stalled. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s office had no comment.
The resolution, introduced last week by the heads of six House oversight committees that are investigating Trump, calls on Barr to make public everything in the Mueller report that is not expressly prohibited by law and to provide the entire document to Congress.
The vote by the Democratic-controlled House put Republican lawmakers on record about support of broad disclosure of a report on an investigation that Trump has called a “witch hunt” led by “thugs.”
Four members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, a group strongly allied with Trump, were the lawmakers who voted “present.” The four were Representatives Justin Amash, Matt Gaetz, Thomas Massie and Paul Gosar.
Seven lawmakers – four Democrats and three Republicans – did not vote.
U.S. Representative Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and author of the resolution, said on the House floor: “It is important that Congress stand up for the principle of full transparency at a time when the president has publicly attacked the Russia investigation more than 1,100 times and counting.”
Representative Doug Collins, the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, backed the resolution, describing it as a restatement of the regulations that give Barr the option of releasing the full report.
“During his confirmation, Attorney General Barr said he wants to be transparent with Congress and the public, consistent with the rules and the law. We have no reason to think Attorney General Barr would back away from those statements,” Collins said.
Some Democrats have voiced concerned that Barr could withhold evidence of possible misconduct by Trump, under Justice Department policies that oppose bringing criminal charges against a sitting president and discourage releasing explanations when a person has not been charged with a crime.
Barr, a Trump nominee who took over the Justice Department last month, replaced Jeff Sessions, who the president ousted in November after long complaining that the former senator had recused himself in 2017 from overseeing the Russia probe.
In his January Senate confirmation hearing, Barr provided some insight into his thinking on the release of the report, saying “my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law” and that he would “let no personal, political or other improper interests influence my decision.”
Some House Democrats already have vowed to subpoena the report and go to court if necessary to win its full release.
The Mueller investigation so far has resulted in indictments against 34 individuals and three companies, seven guilty pleas and one conviction following a jury trial.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Will Dunham)