Jason Chaffetz: On Mueller report, hypocritical Dems suddenly embrace transparency they rejected in Obama era

Now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finished his report on Russia’s inference in our 2016 presidential election, Democratic congressional leaders have done something remarkable. In a dramatic flip-flop from their embrace of secrecy during the Obama administration, they now say: “Release the full report.”

I never thought I would hear those words cross the lips of the same Democrats who took the polar opposite position when I and other Republicans in Congress made quite reasonable and legitimate requests for information during the term of Democratic President Obama.

Yet on Friday, when Mueller submitted his report to Attorney General William Barr, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., issued a joint statement calling on Barr to release “the full report to the public and its underlying documentation and findings to Congress.”

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The Democratic leaders added: “The American people have a right to know the truth. The watchword is transparency.”

In addition, six Democratic House Committee chairs released a letter Friday demanding the Mueller report be made public "without delay." Yet I remember these same six House members taking the opposing position during the Obama years.

When I served in the House representing a district in Utah, my fellow Republicans and I wanted to publicly release the source material behind the sham Accountability Review Board investigation that exonerated then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from responsibility for the failure to protect Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Terrorists killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at a U.S. diplomatic compound and a nearby CIA annex in Benghazi on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012. We in Congress had a responsibility to review what had happened in that horrible attack as part of our oversight role over federal agencies in the executive branch.

But none of the six House members who now serve as committee chairs were speaking up for transparency during our Benghazi investigation.

Turning to a different investigation, what about the underlying facts concerning misconduct by the Internal Revenue targeting conservative groups for tax audits? Nope. House Democrats decided the public didn't need to see that.

Or what about the evidence in the Fast & Furious gunrunning operation? Shouldn't the public get to judge the truth based on the full evidence? Nope. Democrats didn’t agree with Republican requests for openness and transparency.

In fact, Democrats spent eight years while President Obama was in office arguing that large quantities of information should be kept secret after substantive investigations. I disagreed. I still do.

But now that the shoe is on the other foot, only Democrats have changed their position. Republicans in the House voted unanimously to support full transparency, resulting in 420-0 vote to release the Mueller report.

We don’t know at this point what the Mueller report says or how much of it we will get to see. But it will be interesting to see what happens next time a Democrat occupies the White House and his or her administration is under investigation.

I expect Attorney General Barr to release as much information from the Mueller report as he possibly can. Nevertheless, there are categories of information that simply cannot be released.

For example, neither Barr nor anyone else can release grand jury information, information that would expose sources and methods used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, classified information, and information that is legitimately protected by executive privilege.

And it’s crucial that Barr not repeat the big mistake made by fired FBI Director James Comey in the investigation of the Hillary Clinton email scandal.

Comey released derogatory (though true) information about Clinton, even though she was not indicted. Democrats rightly cried foul. The Office of Inspector General issued a report calling Comey's actions "insubordinate." Barr will not make the same mistake.

We need only look back at the Senate confirmation hearing for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to see which play Schumer, Pelosi and their fellow Democrats will run next.

Despite the massive production of documents by the Trump administration – in response to Democratic requests – involving Kavanaugh's earlier job in the White House, some documents were legitimately protected by executive privilege. Democrats used that hole in the record to imply that Kavanaugh must be hiding something.

Democrats will do that again in coming days, making the superficial argument that Barr must be hiding something if he doesn’t release the entire Mueller report.

That position is far cry from the one Democrats took when we were dealing with four dead Americans in Benghazi, a dead Border Patrol agent killed by a weapon our government had provided, and a violation of the rights of conservative groups – the cases I describe above. In none of those cases did Democrats believe the full record should be released.

We haven't seen the Mueller report yet, but given the sensitivity of the topic of foreign spying and interference, we know very few people will be able to gain access all of it.

I'm glad to see Democrats now supporting the right of the American people to see as much of the record as possible. But I regret that the Mueller probe was not handled in a more circumspect way.

Had the focus of the Mueller investigation been less political, we might have been able to raise important questions about the ways in which our adversaries have interfered in our elections, how long they've been doing it, and how many other countries are involved.

Had Justice Department lawyers and investigators taken the time to validate the original sourcing of the unverified claims from years ago regarding Donald Trump in the so-called Steele dossier, they might have discredited the whole thing before sending the entire country on a wild goose chase.

In truth, the dossier was nothing more than opposition research, paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The dossier came from former British spy Christopher Steele – a man the FBI had vowed never to do business with again.

As for the Mueller investigation, which has dragged on for almost two years: What other important counterintelligence and national security issues had to be put on the back burner to free up the significant resources needed to pursue this baseless investigation? Heaven forbid something disastrous had happened in terms of terrorism, since so many people in Washington took their eye off the ball.

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We don’t know at this point what the Mueller report says or how much of it we will get to see. But it will be interesting to see what happens next time a Democrat occupies the White House and his or her administration is under investigation.

Spoiler alert: Don’t be surprised if the great enthusiasm congressional Democrats have today for releasing information regarding a Republican president suddenly evaporates under a Democratic administration.

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