House is investigating whether Trump lied to Mueller, its general counsel told a federal appeals court – The Washington Post

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At the Monday hearing, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is reviewing a lower-court ruling that requires disclosure of evidence the House Judiciary Committee says it needs in its “urgent efforts” to determine whether President Trump committed impeachable offenses.

Last month, Judge Beryl A. Howell, chief of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, found that the House was legally engaged in a judicial process that exempts Congress from grand-jury secrecy rules.

The case is one of several separation-of-powers battles teed up for the Supreme Court. Trump’s private lawyers last week asked the high court to block a subpoena for his tax records from New York prosecutors and to stop a separate House subpoena for his personal and business records.

The Justice Department’s appeal is being heard by a three-member panel made up of Judges Judith W. Rogers, Thomas B. Griffith and Neomi Rao.

The House Committee went to court in July seeking an order for the release of redacted portions of Mueller’s final report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as grand-jury materials the report cited or referenced. The dispute predates the formal impeachment inquiry with its focus on Trump’s effort to pressure his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a potential 2020 political rival.

Justice Department attorneys say the material should be off-limits because impeachment trials are not “judicial proceedings” but a legislative function carried out by lawmakers. There is no exception to grand-jury secrecy rules for impeachment proceedings, the department said in court filings.

In its appeal, the department called the order fromHowell “an extraordinary abrogation of grand-jury secrecy: not only are the materials at issue squarely protected . . . but some relate to ongoing criminal investigations or prosecutions.”

After Attorney General William P. Barr declined House requests for the evidence, the committee subpoenaed Barr. The department did not comply.

House lawyers told the appeals court in filings that lawmakers need to view the materials to “aid the House in determining whether the President committed impeachable offenses, including attempted obstruction of the Special Counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election and solicitation of Ukrainian interference in the 2020 Presidential election.”

Any delay, House lawyers said, will deprive the investigationof essential information.

In her 75-page opinion, Howell said the Judiciary Committee and the House, in determining whether to recommend articles of impeachment, are serving like a grand jury.

“In carrying out the weighty constitutional duty of determining whether impeachment of the President is warranted, Congress need not redo the nearly two years of effort spent on the Special Counsel’s investigation, nor risk being misled by witnesses, who may have provided information to the grand jury and the Special Counsel that varies from what they tell” the House, Howell wrote.

Howell, a former Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee counsel and a 2010 nominee of President Barack Obama, said the need for continued secrecy was “minimal” because the Justice Department already had made redacted portions of the Mueller report available to certain members of Congress and because the Judiciary Committee agreed to negotiations to prevent release of information that would harm any ongoing investigations.

In opposing the release, Trump administration lawyers said a Watergate-era court ruling was wrongly decided in finding impeachment proceedings exempt from grand-jury secrecy rules.

Howell disagreed and rejected Justice Department claims that the House had not yet exhausted other means of obtaining the information, including throughsubpoena.

“These arguments smack of farce,” she wrote, citing a letter from White House counsel Pat Cipollone to House leaders saying the administration would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

“The reality,” Howell wrote, “is that DOJ and the White House have been openly stonewalling the House’s efforts to get information by subpoena and by agreement, and the White House has flatly stated that the Administration will not cooperate with congressional requests for information.”

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