In a big when for Democrats, Judge Beryl Howell ruled Friday that the House Judiciary Committee is entitled to access the grand jury materials that have been concealed in the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Though the majority of the report was made public, much of it was concealed under redactions for various reasons, including that the information was covered by laws governing grand jury secrecy. Lawmakers have had access to some of this redacted information, but the grand jury material has been under tight seal.
To obtain the information, the Judiciary Committee, led by Chair Jerry Nadler, took the Justice Department to court.
While grand jury information is generally supposed to remain secret unless it becomes public as part of a trial, Democrats argued that their impeachment investigations of Trump in Congress are analogous to a judicial proceeding and thus justify unsealing the materials.
The judge said the Justice Department “must disclose” the portions of the report that was concealed for reasons of grand jury secrecy, as well as any other “underlying transcripts or exhibits referenced” in those portions. One the committee has reviewed this material, the judge said it can submit additional requests for further information that it may desire.
The department, Howell argued, is wrong to claim that Congress isn’t entitled to the information — precisely because lawmakers are considering impeachment.
“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 committee[,” she wrote.
One reason the information may be important to the committee, she noted, is that the report “recounts evidence suggesting that then-candidate Trump may have received advance information about Russia’s interference activities.” She added that disclosing the materials to the committee is justified by “the public’s interest in a diligent and thorough investigation into, and in a final determination about, potentially impeachable conduct by the President described in the Mueller Report.”