/Key House panel asks federal judge for grand-jury evidence underlying the Mueller report

Key House panel asks federal judge for grand-jury evidence underlying the Mueller report

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House Judiciary Chairman Jerrod Nadler says the responsibility to look into US President Donald Trump’s “crimes, lies and other wrongdoing” falls on Congress, and he has vowed to finish the work special counsel Robert Mueller has done. (May 29)
AP

WASHINGTON – A federal judge will hear arguments Tuesday from the House Judiciary Committee, which is demanding the grand-jury evidence behind special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The panel subpoenaed the evidence as part of the wide-ranging impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, who calls the inquiry a partisan witch hunt. The Judiciary Committee is focusing on potential obstruction of justice, as described in 10 episodes in the Mueller report. But Attorney General William Barr redacted grand-jury evidence from the report and argued against disclosing it under the subpoena.

U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge for the D.C. district who oversees the grand jury, is hearing the case. Her ruling could resolve a key dispute about the status of the House’s investigation of Trump.

Six committees have been conducting wide-ranging investigations of Trump since Democrats regained control of the chamber in January. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced Sept. 24 that all of the inquiries fall under the umbrella of a formal impeachment investigation and that no floor vote is necessary. But Republicans have argued that only the full House can authorize an impeachment inquiry.

Mueller’s 22-month investigation found no conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia, despite that country’s sweeping and systematic effort to influence the 2016 election. But the report released in April outlined potential obstruction when Trump tried to thwart the special counsel inquiry and have Mueller removed. Mueller made no decision about whether to charge Trump with obstruction because Justice Department policy forbids charging a president while in office.

The Judiciary Committee subpoenaed grand-jury evidence to explore Trump’s knowledge of Russian efforts to interfere in the election, the president’s knowledge of potential criminal acts by his campaign or administration, and actions taken by former White House counsel Don McGahn. The Mueller report described episodes when Trump directed McGahn to remove the special counsel, which McGahn ignored.

“The full Mueller report provides an essential roadmap for the committee’s efforts to uncover all facts relevant to Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential election and to any attempts by the president to prevent Congress from learning the truth about those attacks along with their aftermath,” said the legal filing by Douglas Letter, general counsel for the House. “The committee’s interest in obtaining a limited disclosure of these materials far outweighs any interests in secrecy.”

The House included a 1974 letter from the Watergate era as an exhibit. Rep. Peter Rodino, D-N.Y., who was then head of the Judiciary Committee, wrote to U.S. District Court Judge John Sirica asking for grand-jury materials in the investigation of President Richard Nixon. Rodino cited a House vote of 410-4 to authorize an impeachment investigation.

The Justice Department has argued against releasing the grand-jury evidence behind Mueller’s report. In a written filing, the department said a “miniscule” 0.1% of the report dealing with potential obstruction of justice was redacted. And the department said releasing the evidence could hurt pending cases that grew out of the Mueller investigation.

The committee’s request “fails for a lack of substantial need,” the department said. “It should be denied.”

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, also filed an argument in the case urging the judge to reject the request. Collins said Congress sometimes deserves access to grand-jury evidence, but that the Judiciary Committee shouldn’t gain access yet, for lack of a full House vote.

“The problem for the committee, however, is the House has not authorized it to conduct a formal impeachment proceeding,” Collins said in the filing. “Without an explicit delegation of authority from the House, the committee’s investigation is regular legislative oversight and does not fall within” rules governing access to grand-jury evidence.

Separately, the committee filed another federal lawsuit to force McGahn to testify. The White House has opposed the move under a claim of absolute immunity, which Democrats contend doesn’t exist.

More on congressional investigations of President Donald Trump:

Nancy Pelosi announces formal impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump over Ukraine scandal

‘We’re fighting all the subpoenas.’ Congress and Trump prepare to battle over wide-ranging probes

‘Slow-motion constitutional car crash’: Trump, Congress battle over investigations with no end in sight

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