DOJ appeals ruling allowing House Democrats access to Mueller grand jury evidence

The secrecy of the information "will be lost for all time,” DOJ said.

October 28, 2019, 11:34 AM

The Justice Department on Monday appealed a federal judge’s ruling granting congressional Democrats access to grand jury evidence from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and asked that judge to place a hold on the production of the material pending resolution of the appeal.

In a court filing Monday, government lawyers argued that the Justice Department would be “irreparably harmed” if the grand jury materials were to be handed over to Congress, as the judge ordered on Friday.

“Once the information is disclosed, it cannot be recalled, and the confidentiality of the grand jury information will be lost for all time,” Justice Department lawyers wrote.

On Friday, D.C. District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell ruled that the Justice Department must turn certain portions of former special counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury evidence over to the House Judiciary Committee.

Last week's ruling followed the House Judiciary Committee's first request in July for access to "certain" Mueller grand jury materials, marking an early step toward impeachment, and the DOJ's resistance to the request, stating law that prohibit the disclosure of information shared with grand juries.

Judge Howell ordered the Justice Department to hand over the material by Oct. 30.

Shortly after the DOJ filed its appeal on Monday, the judge ordered the Judiciary Committee to respond to the department by noon on Tuesday.

In the ruling, Howell wrote that in light of the House's ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, the Justice Department is "wrong" to assert all grand jury material need be kept secret, noting that several portions of the Mueller Report "are of interest" to the House Judiciary Committee, including the Trump Tower meeting, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's sharing of of internal polling data with a Russian business associate, and WikiLeaks' dissemination in July 2016 of stolen emails from Democratic political organizations and the Clinton campaign.

Howell ruled it was appropriate for the House to consider the grand jury evidence as part of a judicial process such an an impeachment inquiry.

In Monday's appeal, however, DOJ questioned the relevance of the Mueller grand jury material with the current impeachment inquiry, pointing out that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced that the probe would focus primarily on the whistleblower complaint and issues surrounding the Ukraine affair.

"Although the HJC claims that it needs the information promptly because it continues to investigate matters connected to the Mueller Report, there appears little dispute that, for now, that investigation is secondary, and Congressman Schiff and the House Intelligence Committee—not the Judiciary Committee—is the lead committee heading the congressional investigation," DOJ wrote.

In last week's ruling, Judge Howell also gave a blessing for House Democrats' impeachment inquiry, dismissing Republicans' weeks-long dispute against the legality of Democrats' impeachment proceedings "at worst, red herrings and, at best, incorrect."

In Monday's court document the Justice Department doesn't appear to directly respond to the judge's endorsement of the impeachment inquiry as legal and constitutional.

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