Democrats blast timing of Mueller report release: 'What are they trying to hide?'

The document will be provided to lawmakers only after a press conference about it by Attorney General William Barr.
Image: Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller arrives at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on June 13, 2013.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

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By Frank Thorp V and Dareh Gregorian

A hard copy of special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report will be made available to members of Congress after 11 a.m. Thursday, but only after a news conference by the attorney general — timing that has infuriated Democratic lawmakers.

That means the document will be handed over to lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees 90 minutes after the news conference by Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about the contents of the 300-plus-page report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign.

The report will be delivered on CDs. Sometime after that, it will be posted on the special counsel's website and available to the public, a Department of Justice official said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday called for Mueller to testify publicly to both chambers of Congress "as soon as possible." The Democratic leaders called Barr's handling of the Mueller report "regrettably partisan" and said his planned press conference before the report's release was an "indefensible plan to spin the report."

"We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Special Counsel Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible," Pelosi and Schumer said on Twitter. "The American people deserve to hear the truth."

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At a news conference Wednesday night, House Judiciary chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said the timing of the release was troubling, adding, "This is wrong."

Nadler also accused Barr of waging a media campaign on behalf of the president.

Barr "cherry-picked" Mueller's report in his summary to Congress and briefed the White House before providing a copy of the report to legislators in order to help the administration prepare a rebuttal, Nadler said.

"The central concern here is that Attorney General Barr is not letting the facts of the report speak for themselves, but is trying to bake in the narrative about the report to the benefit of the White House," he told reporters.

Nadler then slammed Barr for choosing to release the report on a holiday weekend and making it difficult for Congress to respond.

Nadler also said lawmakers would issue subpoenas if they found the report to be heavily redacted, asserting that the committee should have access to the full report. Nadler said if that were to happen, Mueller and his team could be among those subpoenaed.

"I assume we’ll probably find it useful to ask Mueller to testify, and I assume we’ll ask members of his team to testify," he said. "But we’ll have to make those decisions after we read what we get, as inadequate as that may be."

A Democratic Senate aide told NBC News, "Here's the question — why are they trying so hard to control the narrative? What are they trying to hide?"

President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly blasted the probe as a "witch hunt" and a "hoax," had some warm words for Barr in a radio interview Wednesday, calling him "fantastic." "You'll see a lot of very strong things come out tomorrow," Trump said in an interview with the "Larry O'Connor Show" on WMAL.

Thursday morning, ahead of the report's expected public release, Trump tweeted: "PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!"

Democrats have demanded to see an unredacted version of the report as well. The Justice Department told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday they won't even start to have a discussion about that until Friday, the Senate aide said.

Mueller will not be attending the Barr-Rosenstein press conference.

Doha Madani and Allan Smith contributed.