Monday, October 28, 2019

No. 339: The House Judiciary Committee Wins a Major Court Victory

On July 26, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee (HJC) filed in federal court an application for an order authorizing release to HJC of certain grand jury materials. On September 13 the Department of Justice (DOJ) responded to the application. On October 3 Doug Collins, the ranking minority member of HJC, filed an amicus brief arguing that the court should deny the application without prejudice because, among other reasons, the House has not authorized HJC to open an impeachment proceeding.

On October 25 Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia handed down a lengthy opinion and a brief order granting HJC's application. DOJ had redacted certain material from the report filed in March 2019 by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. (See In re Application of HJC for an order authorizing release of certain grand jury materials, U.S. District Court. District of Columbia, Grand Jury Action No. 19-48.)

Excerpts from the Opinion
The opinion includes a one-page table of contents and 74 pages of text. Here (without citations) are the first three paragraphs and the concluding two paragraphs of the opinion (the full opinion and the order are in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post):
In March 2019, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III ended his 22-month investigation and issued a two-volume report summarizing his investigative findings and declining either to exonerate the President from having committed a crime or to decide that he did. The Special Counsel explained that bringing federal criminal charges against the President would "potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct." With this Statement, the Special Counsel signaled his view that Congress, as the federal branch of government tasked with presidential impeachment duty under the U.S. Constitution, was the appropriate body to resume where the Special Counsel left off.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives has announced an official impeachment inquiry, and the House Judiciary Committee ("HJC"), in exercising Congress's "sole Power of Impeachment," is reviewing the evidence set out in the Mueller Report. As part of this due diligence, HJC is gathering and assessing all relevant evidence, but one critical subset of information is currently off limits to HJC: information in and underlying the Mueller Report that was presented to a grand jury and withheld from Congress by the Attorney General.
The Department of Justice ("DOJ") claims that existing law bars disclosure to the Congress of grand jury information. DOJ is wrong. 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 HJC. As explained in more detail below, HJC's application for an order authorizing the release to HJC of certain grand jury materials related to the Special Counsel investigation is granted....
For the foregoing reasons, HJC's application is granted. Consequently, DOJ is ordered to provide promptly, by October 30, 2019, to HJC all portions of the Mueller Report that were redacted pursuant to Rule 6(e) and any underlying transcripts or exhibits referenced in the portions of the Mueller Report that were redacted pursuant to Rule 6(e). HJC is permitted to file further requests articulating its particularized needs for additional grand jury information requested in the initial application.
An appropriate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.
The Order
The "final and appealable" order grants HJC's application and orders DOJ to disclose to HJC, by October 30, certain material from the Mueller Report. It also says HJC may submit further requests for material in addition to the material requested in the application.

General Observations
At this writing I do not know whether DOJ will comply with the order. Recent press reports say DOJ is studying the ruling and considering its options. Meanwhile, I strongly recommend you read the entire opinion, whether or not you have read the Mueller Report. The early sections of the opinion include an interesting summary of the Mueller report.

In No. 295 (November 9, 2018), I wrote about the "Road Map" the Watergate Grand Jury transmitted under seal to HJC in 1974. HJC used the Road Map in developing articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon. On September 14, 2018, three individuals petitioned for an order to unseal the Road Map. On October 11, 2018, Chief Judge Howell granted the petition.

Available Material
In the above mentioned No. 295, I offered a complimentary 68-page package containing the Road Map. That package is still available.

Now I am offering a complimentary 77-page PDF consisting of Chief Judge Howell's opinion (75 pages) and her order (2 pages). Email and ask for the October 2019 package relating to Chief Judge Howell's ruling on the HJC application.