Judge orders DOJ to release grand jury material from Mueller report

The Department of Justice (DOJ) must hand over to Congress certain redacted information from Robert Mueller's special counsel report, a federal judge ruled Friday in a major win for House Democrats investigating President Trump.

The opinion from D.C. District Court Judge Beryl Howell, an Obama appointee, ruled that House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee had proven that they have a justifiable reason for obtaining the records related to Mueller's grand jury now that they are pursuing an impeachment inquiry into the president.

And Howell ruled that the House does not need to authorize the Democrats' impeachment inquiry with a floor vote in order to be legitimate, in a full-throated rebuke of the president's attacks on the proceeding.

"In carrying out the weighty constitutional duty of determining whether impeachment of the President is warranted, Congress need not redo the nearly two years of effort spent on the Special Counsel’s investigation, nor risk being misled by witnesses, who may have provided information to the grand jury and the Special Counsel that varies from what they tell [the House Judiciary Committee]," Howell wrote in her decision.

The order directs DOJ to turn over all information that was redacted from the Mueller report in order to protect grand jury secrecy. That includes more than 240 redactions from the first volume of the report alone. Howell gave DOJ until Wednesday, Oct. 30, to comply.

A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The White House and congressional Republicans have argued that the Democrats' impeachment inquiry, which has expanded to include a probe into whether Trump pressured Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Biden and his son, is illegitimate because it hasn't been authorized by a vote in the House.

The DOJ echoed that argument to the district court last month, writing in a filing that “impeachments of Presidents Clinton and Andrew Johnson were investigated in multiple phases with each phase authorized by the House’s adoption of resolutions.”

Howell rejected the Justice Department's assertion in her opinion Friday.

"Even were this statement accurate, which it is not, the manner in which the House has chosen to conduct impeachment inquiries encompasses more than past Presidents and no sound legal or constitutional reason has been presented to distinguish the House’s exercise of impeachment authority for a President from the exercise of such authority more generally," Howell wrote.

The House Judiciary subpoena is part of a legal battle being fought on several fronts between the Trump administration and House Democrats investigating the president.

The committee applied for a court order for the grand jury materials in July in order to continue Mueller's probe into Russian interference and possible obstruction of justice by the White House.

"Because Department of Justice policies will not allow prosecution of the sitting president, the United States House of Representatives is the only institution of the federal government that can now vote President Trump accountable for these actions,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a press conference at the time.

Nadler said on Friday that he's gratified by the court victory.

“The court’s thoughtful ruling recognizes that our impeachment inquiry fully comports with the Constitution and thoroughly rejects the spurious White House claims to the contrary," he said in a statement. "This grand jury information that the Administration has tried to block the House from seeing will be critical to our work.”

Trump has also been fighting efforts to obtain his tax returns, other financial records and documents related to his Washington hotel.

The president has shown no willingness to compromise on any of the document requests. This week, following an appeals court ruling uphold the House Oversight and Reform Committee's subpoena of the president's accounting firm, Trump's lawyers said they intended to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Also this week, in another case that seems destined for the nation's highest court, Trump's personal lawyers doubled down on their assertion that the president is immune from criminal investigation and prosecution while in office — a view that has been endorsed by DOJ.

Howell on Friday noted in her opinion that theory of blanket immunity for the president "has never been adopted, sanctioned, or in any way approved by a court."

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