Reps. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and 14 other Democrats currently in the House voted in 1998 against releasing the Starr Report about President Bill Clinton.
But 21 years later, many of those Democratic lawmakers are some of the most ardent voices in Congress pushing for the full release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Nadler, Oversight Committee Chairman Cummings, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Waters are part of a group of lawmakers in the lower chamber putting pressure on Attorney General William Barr to release the so-called Mueller Report. But back in 1998, these lawmakers were among the 63 then serving in the House to vote against release of Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s report on his investigation into President Bill Clinton.
The Starr Report began in 1994 under Independent Counsel Robert Fiske as a probe into “Whitewater,” a land deal involving President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas. But it eventually morphed into questions of obstruction of justice involving Clinton over his relations with Monica Lewinsky.
The House voted 363-63 to release the Starr Report on September 11, 1998, with all 63 no votes coming from Democrats.
On Wednesday, current members of the House Judiciary Committee voted 24-17 to give Nadler permission to issue subpoenas to the Justice Department for the final report, its exhibits and any underlying evidence or materials prepared for Mueller's investigation. Nadler has not yet said if he'll send the subpoenas, which would be the first step in a potentially long fight with the Justice Department over the materials.
The Judiciary panel also voted Wednesday to authorize subpoenas related to five of President Donald Trump's former top advisers, stepping up a separate, wide-ranging investigation into Trump and his personal and political dealings.
On the Mueller report, House Democrats had given Barr until Tuesday to provide an unredacted verson to Congress, along with underlying materials. The Justice Department ignored that deadline, with Barr telling committee chairmen in a letter last week that he was in the process of redacting portions of the almost 400-page report and it would be released by mid-April, "if not sooner."
The vote further escalates the Democrats' battle with the Justice Department over how much of the report they will be able to see, a fight that could eventually head to court if the two sides can't settle their differences through negotiation. Democrats have said they will not accept redactions and want to see the evidence unfiltered by Barr.
In the letter last week, Barr said he is going over the report to avoid disclosing any grand jury information or classified material, in addition to portions of the report that pertain to ongoing investigations or that "would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties."
Democrats say they want access to all of that information, even if some of it can't be disclosed to the public. Nadler said he will give Barr time to change his mind on redactions, but if they cannot reach an agreement, the subpoenas will be issued "in very short order." He also said he is prepared to go to court to get the grand jury information.
"This committee requires the full report and the underlying materials because it is our job, not the attorney general's, to determine whether or not President Trump has abused his office," Nadler said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.