In the early months of 2019, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation headed to a close, congressional Republicans were just as interested in how much it cost to fund his probe as they were in what it actually found.
By March, Republicans on Capitol Hill were decrying how long the investigation had dragged on, frequently pointing out the amount of taxpayer dollars—reportedly some $25 million—that went toward funding it. They made clear they expected the special counsel to provide a comprehensive accounting of how much he spent and why—and also made clear that getting those answers would be a priority for the GOP.
In a statement on March 22, the day Mueller submitted his report to the Department of Justice, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the House’s No. 2 Republican, said he expected Attorney General William Barr to brief lawmakers on how much it cost Mueller to “bully people” during his “meandering” investigation.
But since Barr released his own summary of Mueller’s findings—which are said to state that Trump did not collude with Russia (by the legal standard) and left the attorney general to decide on dicier accusations that he obstructed the investigation—most Republicans have grown agnostic if not downright quiet in their quest to find out the taxpayer burden of the Russiagate probe, choosing instead to take a victory lap over Trump’s self-described “exoneration” and urging Democrats to move on.
Asked on Wednesday if he wanted to learn more about the price tag of the special counsel probe, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, sidestepped the question, instead launching into a defense of Barr. A senior member of the committee, Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), shrugged at the same question.
“It isn’t my priority,” Buck told The Daily Beast. “Finding the truth is important, and it was an important subject.”
And a close ally of the president, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), told The Daily Beast that while accountability is a good thing, “as we look at it, I think there are bigger concerns of transparency” than the cost of the investigation.
The cost of Mueller’s operation was not historically high compared to other high-profile investigations. And for that reason, Republicans were often criticized for using the issue as a diversion to paint the special counsel’s office as a burden to taxpayers. Their willingness to now drop that argument suggests that their concerns with the price tag weren’t all that severe. It also reflects the degree to which GOP lawmakers have weaponized the concept of transparency when engaging Democrats on the Mueller probe.
Now, instead of having a debate over the cost of the investigation, lawmakers are grappling with another transparency concern: whether Mueller’s findings will ever be made public.
Barr has said that he would deliver a redacted version of the report to lawmakers as soon as mid-April. But House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) already gave him a deadline of April 2 to hand it over and Democrats remain far from satisfied with what they know about the special counsel’s findings.
With Nadler’s deadline in the rearview, the Judiciary Committee voted along party lines on Wednesday to authorize the committee chairman to issue a subpoena for Mueller’s full, roughly 400-page report from the Department of Justice, along with the thousands of pages of evidence Mueller likely collected during his two-year investigation.
Once more, Republicans found themselves taking a more nuanced approach towards Mueller-related transparency. All but four House Republican had joined every House Democrat in supporting a resolution last month—before the investigation wrapped—calling on the Department of Justice to make Mueller’s full report public. But on Wednesday, committee Republicans objected to Nadler’s request, chiefly citing a process concern: that forcing Barr to release the entire report without redactions would run him afoul of existing legal protections for materials obtained through a grand jury, which accounts for some chunk of the special counsel’s evidence.
House Republicans didn’t see anything in their current stance that conflicts with that call for the report to be made public. “We understood we were talking about an appropriate version that’s redacted, pursuant to law, and there’s some statutory and regulatory provisions that apply to that,” said Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) of last month’s vote.
“The better question is,” posited Collins, “to ask the Democrats how they square their votes.”
But Democrats countered that the subpoena does not force Barr to break the law, and insisted the public should have as much of the Mueller report as possible. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a Judiciary Committee member, suggested that Republicans are interested in blocking the release of further information because Barr’s initial summary was a PR win for them.
“Our fear is that the report did not come out favorably to them, but that it has been cast that way by the attorney general,” Raskin told The Daily Beast. “We have no idea.”
President Trump—who recently said that all of Mueller’s report should be released—has backed away from that call and spent this week attacking Democrats’ efforts to obtain more information. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders denounced the “sore losers” for trying to keep the Mueller report alive.
That shift in tone has trickled down to at least one Trump ally on Capitol Hill. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told CNN on Wednesday he wasn’t even interested in seeing much more from Mueller.
"I want Barr to come before the committee,” said Graham, “to present the report minus grand jury information, minus classified information. I don't need to look at a million documents."
Hours after Graham’s appearance, The New York Times reported that members of Mueller’s own team felt that Barr’s four-page summary of their work had downplayed the severity of the conclusions they’d drawn about Russia’s interference in Trump’s 2016 election.