DC appeals court allows release of secret Mueller grand jury testimony to Congress
WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a House committee is entitled to see secret grand jury testimony gathered in former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The split decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirms a lower court ruling delivered last fall for the Judiciary Committee as the House weighed impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
"The committee has established a particularized need for the redacted grand jury materials it seeks," the court ruled. "The committee has repeatedly stated that if the grand jury materials reveal new evidence of impeachable offenses, the committee may recommend new articles of impeachment."
In December, the House approved two articles of impeachment against the president. One accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding military aid in order to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into a political rival. The second accused him of obstructing Congress by stonewalling its subpoenas for documents and testimony.
Trump was acquitted by the Senate on both counts in February, a culmination of months of partisan clashes over accusations he tried to cheat in the 2020 presidential election by pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination.
In a January hearing before the appeals court, House general counsel Douglas Letter left open the possibility of new impeachment articles, pending a review of the grand jury evidence.
“That is on the table; there is no doubt,” Letter told the court.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the ruling "an unequivocal rejection of the president’s insistence that he is above the law" and a rebuke of Attorney General William Barr, whose Justice Department had sought to block the committee's demand.
Pelosi did not, however, indicate how the material would be used since the ruling comes after the impeachment proceedings ended.
Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., also lauded the ruling.
"The Committee remains committed to holding the president accountable to the rule of law and preventing improper interference in law enforcement investigations,” Nadler said.
The Justice Department said that it was reviewing the ruling.
Mueller’s report described multiple instances in which Trump sought to thwart his investigation, which included ordering then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to remove Mueller. Mueller did not make a decision on bringing criminal charges against Trump, largely because Justice Department policy says a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.
In a separate case, the appeals court ruled in February that McGahn can't be forced to testify.
Nadler has argued the panel needs to review the evidence that Barr redacted from the report in order to consider whether the president obstructed justice.
The Justice Department, however, argued the committee wasn’t entitled to the grand jury evidence, which typically remains secret, because the panel failed to explain how it would help its investigation.