By Patricia Zengerle and Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s Republican allies tangled with one of Trump’s most prominent Democratic critics during a chaotic congressional hearing on Thursday and the U.S. attorney general revealed that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry report is more than 300 pages long.
Hours after Trump went on Twitter to demand that Democrat Adam Schiff resign from Congress, Republican lawmakers called on him to quit as chairman of the bitterly divided House of Representatives Intelligence Committee because of his comments about the president’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
Schiff quickly fired back at a tumultuous hearing and called actions by the president’s associates unpatriotic and corrupt. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, defended Schiff and called the actions of Trump and committee Republicans “shameful” and “irresponsible.”
Attorney General William Barr, empowered by Justice Department regulations to decide how much of the special counsel’s report to make public, on Sunday released his four-page summary of Mueller’s findings. Barr said Mueller did not establish that Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia in the 2016 election.
The attorney general informed House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler about the length of the report in a telephone call on Wednesday, a Justice Department official said. Barr also agreed to testify before Nadler’s committee, although no date was set, the official said.
Republicans in the Senate on Thursday thwarted another effort by Democrats to pass a resolution calling for the Mueller report to be made available to the public and Congress. The House has passed a similar resolution.
A Justice Department official said on Tuesday that Barr would issue a public version of the report within “weeks, not months.” But top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said Barr’s delay of the release has “too much of the odour of political expediency to help the man who appointed him, President Trump.”
Pelosi also demanded the report’s release. “No, thank you, Mr. Attorney General. We do not need your interpretation. Show us the report and we’ll come to our own conclusions,” she said.
Republicans have launched a counter-attack against Democrats since Barr released his summary. Trump used an early-morning Twitter post to assail Schiff, whose committee is investigating Russia’s influence on U.S. elections.
“Congressman Adam Schiff, who spent two years knowingly and unlawfully lying and leaking, should be forced to resign from Congress!” Trump wrote.
Trump did not give specifics of his accusations against Schiff, who has not been accused by authorities of leaking classified information.
SCHIFF VS. COMMITTEEREPUBLICANS
Republican members of the intelligence panel opened a Thursday session on Russian meddling with an attack on Schiff. They said all nine Republican panel members had signed a letter asking him to quit.
Representative Mike Conaway read the letter to Schiff, accusing him of spreading “false information” and saying Republicans had no faith in his ability “to discharge your duties in a manner consistent with your constitutional responsibility.”
Schiff responded by citing a list of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians, from Donald Trump Jr. welcoming a Russian offer of “dirt” on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, to former national security adviser Michael Flynn secretly discussing easing U.S. sanctions on Russia with Moscow’s ambassador before Trump became president.
“You might say that’s all OK,” Schiff said. “You might say that’s just what you need to do to win. But I don’t think it’s OK. I think it’s immoral. I think it’s unethical. I think it’s unpatriotic and, yes, I think it’s corrupt – and evidence of collusion.”
During his investigation, Mueller brought charges against 34 people, including Russian agents and former Trump aides. Mueller left unresolved in his report the question of whether Trump committed obstruction of justice by impeding the Russia investigation and did not exonerate the president, Barr said. Barr himself concluded there was insufficient evidence to establish that Trump had committed obstruction of justice.
Pelosi rallied to Schiff’s defence.
“They’re afraid of the truth. They’re afraid of competence,” Pelosi told her weekly news conference. “I’m so proud of the work of Chairman Adam Schiff.”
The House intelligence committee has been bitterly split along party lines for years on the Russia investigation, which was taken over by Mueller in May 2017 after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
The committee’s Republicans wrapped up their investigation a year ago, finding no collusion between Trump and Moscow to influence the vote. Democrats, led by Schiff, blasted the announcement as premature.
Thursday’s hearing, examining the influence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country’s wealthiest business leaders, known as oligarchs, continued after the angry exchange between its members.
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia used a campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord in the United States, harm Clinton and boost Trump’s candidacy. Russia denied election interference.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Andy Sullivan; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Cornwell and Makini Brice; Writing by Will Dunham, Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bill Trott and Grant McCool)