House Democrats continue to fight for secret grand jury information from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, saying they may use it in the Senate trial or additional articles of impeachment against President Trump.
Oral arguments are set for Friday in the case, after the Department of Justice appealed a district court judge’s October ruling that both the committee and the public have an interest in the grand jury material, which is typically kept secret and is redacted in Mueller’s report.
The House Judiciary Committee told the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. last week that it “continues to seek the withheld grand jury material for use in impeachment — both because the material bears on the current articles of impeachment and could accordingly be used in a Senate trial on those articles, and because the Committee is continuing to conduct its inquiry into whether the President committed other impeachable offenses.”
The response to the appeals court addressed Trump’s impeachment, saying it did not make the case moot. “The current status of the impeachment proceedings underscores the continuing controversy regarding the withheld grand-jury material,” Democratic general counsel Douglas Letter told the court.
House Democrats passed two articles of impeachment against Trump in December, one about “abuse of power,” claiming he “solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 U.S. presidential election” and a second over “obstruction of Congress,” saying he “directed the unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives.” Both articles reference Mueller’s investigation, claiming Trump’s “actions were consistent” with “previous invitations of foreign interference” and “previous efforts to undermine U.S. government investigations into foreign interference.” Trump and Republicans rejected claims of wrongdoing.
The DOJ told the court the House shouldn’t get the grand jury material because the approved articles of impeachment “do not refer to the Mueller Report,” dismissing the Democratic arguments as attempts to ”backfill” their legal reasoning because the two articles relate to “a different controversy that post-dates the Mueller Report.”
“The Ukraine controversy, and allegations of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry concerning that controversy, became the sole focus of the committee’s impeachment inquiry, and that is the basis on which the House of Representatives ultimately voted to impeach the President,” Assistant Attorney General Joseph Hunt said.
Democrats want access to the Mueller report info “to inform its ongoing investigations of President Trump’s offenses.”
“If this material reveals new evidence supporting the conclusion that President Trump committed impeachable offenses that are not covered by the articles adopted by the House, the committee will proceed accordingly — including, if necessary, by considering whether to recommend new articles of impeachment,” they said.
Chairman Jerry Nadler, whose Judiciary Committee became responsible for drafting the articles of impeachment following weeks of Ukraine-centered testimony spearheaded by the House Intelligence Committee, spent months following the 448-page Mueller report’s release, strongly hinting at a Russia-related impeachment, and has battled for the grand jury material since the spring. The New York Democrat reportedly sought to include a third article directly connected to Mueller’s investigation, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected it. The Democratic leader from California hasn’t sent the articles of impeachment to the GOP-controlled Senate for consideration yet, saying she first wants to know what the trial rules established by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will look like.
In the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which sparked a whistleblower complaint and impeachment proceedings, Zelensky expressed interest in purchasing anti-tank weaponry from the United States, and Trump responded by asking Zelensky “to do us a favor though,” to look into a Crowdstrike conspiracy theory and possible Ukrainian election interference in 2016. Trump also urged Zelensky to investigate “the other thing,” referring to allegations of corruption related to Joe and Hunter Biden, telling Zelensky to speak with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr. The roughly $400 million in U.S. military aid held up by Trump for weeks was released in September.
Democrats surmise the grand jury information might shed light on other wrongdoing, highlighting former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s alleged comments in 2016 that Ukraine, not Russia, may have been responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee, which they called “the same false theory that President Trump pressured the government of Ukraine to investigate.” The court filing also pointed to a redacted portion of Mueller’s report dealing with Manafort’s “peace plan” for the yet-ongoing clash between Russia and Ukraine in the eastern half of the country, which was “the same conflict from which President Trump later withheld military aid.”
Grand jury testimony played a key role in former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in December 1998, with the first impeachment article alleging he “willfully provided perjurious, false, and misleading testimony to the grand jury” about his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, among other wrongdoing, while the other two approved articles accused Clinton of perjury in a civil case and obstruction of justice. After a five-week trial, the Senate acquitted Clinton in February 1999.