A federal appeals court Tuesday ruled that Congress can access the grand jury materials from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, giving Democrats the green light to revive Russian-collusion accusations against President Trump.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a 2-1 ruling siding with the House Judiciary Committee, which sought access to material that was redacted from Mr. Mueller’s 448-page report, along with exhibits and transcripts referenced in the report.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the decision an “unequivocal rejection of the president’s insistence that he is above the law.”
“This important appeals court decision upholds the House’s long-standing right to obtain grand jury information pursuant to the House’s impeachment power and makes clear that the release of grand jury information is the decision of the federal judiciary — not the administration,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat.
The Department of Justice attempted to block Democrats’ access to materials by invoking a federal law that bars the release of grand jury materials except in a judicial proceeding. Democrats countered that the impeachment investigation qualified as a judicial proceeding and the court agreed.
“The Department has no interest in objecting to the release of these materials outside the general purposes and policies of grand jury secrecy, which, as discussed, do not outweigh the committee’s compelling need for disclosure,” wrote Judge Judith Rogers in the majority opinion.
Judge Rogers, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, was joined by Judge Thomas Griffith, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.
Judge Neomi Rao, a Trump appointee, authored the dissenting opinion, in which she said it was not clear the committee still needed the materials since the House had already impeached Mr. Trump and the Senate acquitted him.
She also said the committee didn’t have the standing to obtain a court order.
Tuesday’s decision is not the final word on the case as the Justice Department is expected to appeal the ruling to the full Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.
The committee filed the lawsuit before the formal start of an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s effort to press Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential front-runner Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter.
Democrats have said they still need the Mueller documents for further investigations, including whether Mr. Trump lied in his responses to the special counsel’s questions or obstructed the Russia probe.
Justice Department lawyers argued that the court did not have the authority to referee a fight between the executive and legislative branches, an argument Judge Rogers rejected.
“In short, it is the district court, not the Executive or the Department that controls access to the grand jury materials at issue here,” she wrote.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, cheered the decision.
“The Justice Department has consistently provided grand jury material to the Committee in past investigations involving Presidential misconduct — but Attorney General [William] Barr chose to break from that long-standing practice, and DOJ radically altered its position in an attempt to withhold this information,” he said in a statement. “The court today correctly rejected DOJ’s arguments and held that the Committee is entitled to these materials.”
The decision puts a win on the board for Democrats, who have had mixed results trying to prolong their investigation of Mr. Trump. Last month, different judges on the same court rejected Democrats’ bid to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify before Congress.
Tuesday’s ruling upheld an earlier opinion by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, who also concluded the House was engaged in a judicial proceeding that warranted disclosure of the Mueller materials.