A federal judge on Friday granted the House Judiciary Committee’s request for grand jury materials from former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation — and in the process backed up some Democratic arguments about their power in the impeachment inquiry.
Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in a 75-page ruling, ordered the Justice Department to turn over the documents by Wednesday. The Department is likely to appeal.
The Judiciary Committee filed the application to get the normally secret grand jury materials in July, after the release of Mueller’s report that detailed Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and President Donald Trump’s efforts to interfere with that probe.
Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the ruling “recognizes that our impeachment inquiry fully comports with the Constitution and thoroughly rejects the spurious White House claims to the contrary.”
“This grand jury information that the Administration has tried to block the House from seeing will be critical to our work,” Nadler said.
The committee argued that the information could be released to lawmakers under an exception to grand jury secrecy related to ongoing judicial proceedings. The Justice Department opposed the release of the information.
But Howell ruled that the Justice Department’s reading of the exception would mean that a president’s administration could “wall off any evidence of presidential misconduct from the House,” and that exception “must not be read to impede the House from exercising its ‘sole Power of Impeachment.’”
Howell also cited a letter from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, which experts criticized as advancing a legally flimsy argument, that told the House it would not participate in an impeachment inquiry that hasn’t been authorized by the full House — which they argue means it isn’t “a valid impeachment proceeding.”
Howell wrote that such a stated policy of noncooperation with the impeachment inquiry weighs heavily in favor of disclosing the grand jury materials to the House Judiciary Committee.
“Congress’s need to access grand jury material relevant to potential impeachable conduct by a President is heightened when the Executive Branch willfully obstructs channels for accessing other relevant evidence,” Howell wrote.
And Howell also cut down Cipollone’s argument that the full House is required to vote on a resolution to start an impeachment inquiry, an argument also forwarded in the case by Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee’s top Republican.
That test is “cherry-picked and incomplete,” Howell wrote, and it has no support in the Constitution, the rules of the House or judicial decisions about the disclosure of grand jury material.
Because of that, the court does not have the authority to impose such a test because it “would be an impermissible intrusion” on the House’s authority to determine its own rules and exercise its impeachment power, Howell wrote.
The committee now argues that the material is still key to an impeachment probe that focuses on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine this year, in part because the Mueller report mentions Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s interactions with the country.
Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.