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Justice Dept. appeals ruling it must turn over Mueller grand jury materials in impeachment inquiry

A federal judge said Friday that the unredacted special counsel report, along with underlying documents, must be sent to the House committees.
Robert Mueller testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on July 24, 2019.Caroline Brehman / CQ-Roll Call file

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said on Monday it will appeal a federal judge's order requiring the government to give the House of Representatives grand jury material that was gathered during former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian election meddling and possible obstruction by President Donald Trump.

Federal District Court Judge Beryl Howell ruled on Friday that a completely unredacted version of Mueller's final report, as well as underlying evidence backing up its conclusions, must be turned over to the House by Wednesday. House Democrats sued to get the material, saying they need it for their impeachment inquiry.

The Justice Department also asked Howell to put a hold on her own ruling.

Once the grand jury material is turned over, DOJ said, "it cannot be recalled, and the confidentiality of the grand jury information will be lost for all time." That's especially so, the government said, if the House decides to make any of the material public, which House leaders have said they have the power to do by majority vote.

There's no need to rush, Justice Department lawyers said, given that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the president's dealings with Ukraine — not the Mueller Report — is the current focus of the House impeachment investigation. And that "will likely extend into the next calendar year," the government said in asking for a stay.

Howell ordered the House to respond by noon Tuesday to the Justice Department's request.

Federal law makes a grand jury's proceedings secret, and the law provides only a few exceptions. Howell said the need for secrecy is outweighed by the House Judiciary Committee's need to see the material.

"Tipping the scale even further toward disclosure is 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," she wrote.

Mueller's investigators said because longstanding Justice Department policy forbids indicting a sitting president, they would not even say whether any of Trump's actions constitution obstruction of justice. But their report tellingly noted the existence of the "constitutional process for addressing presidential misconduct" — namely, impeachment.