Lawyers for the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee told a federal appeals court on Monday that secret grand jury materials from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe are needed for President Trump’s impeachment inquiry and likely Senate trial.
House Democrats, who have repeatedly pushed the Justice Department for the urgent release of the redacted materials, made the case for the documents’ continued relevance, even as the impeachment scope has narrowed. The Justice Department is arguing that the House should not have access to the documents.
"The Department of Justice (DOJ) takes extraordinary positions in this case,” the House Judiciary Committee told the D.C. Circuit Court in a court filing on Monday. “It does so to avoid disclosing grand-jury material needed for the House’s impeachment of President Trump and the Senate’s trial to remove him from office.”
Counsel for the Judiciary Committee have long held out the possibility that Trump’s alleged obstruction of Mueller’s nearly two-year probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign could prove critical to the impeachment inquiry.
The Monday court filing shows Democrats doubling down on that argument even as the impeachment process moves quickly and after the House committees involved unveiled two impeachment articles that focused narrowly on Trump’s alleged abuse of power over his dealings with Ukraine and the administration’s obstruction of Congress.
In October, Democrats scored a win when a federal district court judge said the Justice Department should hand over the redacted materials from Mueller's probe.
D.C. Circuit Court Judge Beryl Howell, an Obama appointee, said House Democrats had provided a legitimate reason for seeking the documents, citing their impeachment inquiry into Trump. The DOJ had argued that the impeachment inquiry was not legitimate because it had not been authorized in a vote by the full House, an argument Howell rejected. The DOJ appealed that ruling to the circuit court.
Laying out their arguments for the circuit court, Democrats stressed the need to obtain the documents for the impeachment process.
"Because this Court effectively stayed the decision below pending appeal, the Committee voted to refer Articles of Impeachment to the House without the benefit of the grand-jury material to which it was entitled," Democrats said.
"Those Articles underscore the Committee’s urgent need for the withheld material. As the Committee recently explained, should the Committee obtain the withheld material, 'it would be utilized, among other purposes, in a Senate trial on these articles of impeachment, if any.' "
During oral arguments before a panel of D.C. Circuit Court judges last month, a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee said Democrats were looking into whether Trump misled Mueller.
House attorney Douglas Letter highlighted grand jury testimony of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, saying Manafort’s statements could shed light on whether written responses Trump provided to the special counsel were untruthful.
The former special counsel’s 448-page report contains redacted passages detailing information gleaned during grand jury proceedings.