A federal judge ruled on Oct. 25 that the Department of Justice (DOJ) must turn over grand jury material from special counsel Robert Mueller’s case to House Democrats.
The department had argued that existing law barred disclosure of the information to Congress.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, appointed by President Barack Obama, said in the ruling that disclosure of “a matter occurring before a grand jury” is generally prohibited, citing Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (pdf). But exceptions exist, including some “which allow disclosure without any judicial involvement and others of which require either judicial notice or a court order.”
“The D.C. Circuit recently held, in McKeever v. Barr, that the ‘text of the Rule’ prevents disclosure of a ‘matter appearing [sic] before the grand jury’ ‘unless these rules provide otherwise,'” Howell wrote (pdf).
“In the D.C. Circuit’s binding view, ‘deviations from the detailed list of exceptions in Rule 6(e) are not permitted,’ id. at 846, and thus a ‘district court has no authority outside Rule 6(e) to disclose grand jury matter.'”
The House Judiciary Committee’s request for disclosure of the grand jury information referenced in or underlying the report from Mueller’s team and grand jury information collected by the team fall under one of the exceptions, disclosure “preliminary to or in connection with a judicial proceeding,” Howell asserted.
Disclosure of grand jury information is proper under this exception when three requirements are satisfied, the judge said: “The person seeking disclosure must first identify a relevant ‘judicial proceeding’ within the meaning of Rule 6(e)(3)(E)(i); then, second, establish that the requested disclosure is ‘preliminarily to’ or ‘in connection with’ that proceeding; and, finally, show a ‘particularized need’ for the requested grand jury materials.”
The requisite judicial proceeding is the possible impeachment trial in the Senate of Trump if the House votes to impeach him; the department had argued that the trial cannot be a “judicial proceeding” but Howell said that ignored the broad interpretation given to the term.
She also rejected the view that a formal vote would be necessary to launch the impeachment inquiry.
“Even in cases of presidential impeachment, a House resolution has never, in fact, been required to begin an impeachment inquiry,” Howell said. All previous cases of impeachment have started with an inquiry triggered by a vote.
“These contentions are, at worst, red herrings and, at best, incorrect,” Howell added about arguments that the House Judiciary Committee couldn’t start an inquiry without a formal vote of the House and that, if a vote did take place, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wouldn’t be able to give the committee the authority to conduct the inquiry.
Howell ordered the department to provide the House with “all portions of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election that were redacted pursuant to” grand jury restrictions by Oct. 30.
The department was also told to hand over any underlying transcripts or exhibits referenced in the portions of the Mueller Report that were redacted with the same restrictions.
The department has not yet responded to the ruling.