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US judge says Trump impeachment inquiry legal

October 26, 2019

The court ruling came in an order demanding that the Justice Department provide the House with blacked-out evidence from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

US Capitol Building
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Harnik

A US judge on Friday handed a major victory to House Democrats investigating US President Donald Trump and directed his administration to hand over an unredacted copy of secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

US District Judge Beryl Howell also found that House Democrats are engaged in a legal impeachment inquiry, undercutting arguments from House Republicans and the administration that launching the probe was illegitimate without an initial vote.

Read more: Impeachment in the US: How does it work?

The judge said the House does not need to vote on a resolution before formally initiating an impeachment inquiry, confirming the wide powers of Congress to carry out its constitutional role of conducting oversight.

"Blocking access to evidence collected by a grand jury relevant to an impeachment inquiry, as DOJ urges, undermines the House's ability to carry out its constitutional responsibility with due diligence," the judge said, using an abbreviation for the Department of Justice.

She ordered the Justice Department to give the House Judiciary Committee an unredacted copy of the Mueller report by October 30. The Justice Department had argued that secret material from grand jury proceedings could not be provided to the Judiciary Committee after the body issued a subpoena.

"The reality 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," the judge said.

"DOJ is wrong," Howell said, adding that the committee's need for the materials "is greater than the need for continued secrecy."

"Impeachment based on anything less than all relevant evidence would compromise the public's faith in the process," added Howell.

House Democrats build case

House Democrats are investigating Trump for applying pressure on Ukraine's president to dig up political dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, a front-runner to face off against the president in next year's election.

The Mueller report found Russia meddled in the 2016 US election but did not find sufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the Kremlin and the 2016 Trump campaign. The special counsel did not come to a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, but appeared to signal that it was up to Congress to take up the matter.

House Democrats believe the blacked out materials in Mueller's 448-page report released in April could reveal hidden details to lawmakers about Trump's actions during the 2016 election and become part of the impeachment drive.

Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, welcomed the judge's ruling. 

"The court's thoughtful ruling recognizes that our impeachment inquiry fully comports with the Constitution and thoroughly rejects the spurious White House claims to the contrary," Nadler said in a statement. "This grand jury information that the administration has tried to block the House from seeing will be critical to our work."

The Justice Department said it was examining the ruling, which can be appealed.

cw/aw (AP, Reuters)

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