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DC appeals court sides with House Democrats, says DOJ must hand over sealed Mueller grand jury info

'The Committee may recommend new articles of impeachment'

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Department of Justice has to turn sealed grand jury information from the Mueller probe over to congressional Democrats.

In a 2-1 decision, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the House Judiciary Committee, which requested a court order unsealing the materials in late July and was granted in October.

Judge Judith Rogers, a Clinton appointee, argued in the majority opinion that the committee's needs in its impeachment investigation against President Donald Trump outweighed the Justice Department's desire to keep the information sealed.

"In short, it is the district court, not the Executive or the Department, that controls access to the grand jury materials at issue here," Rogers argued. "The Department has objected to disclosure of the redacted grand jury materials, but the Department has no interest in objecting to the release of these materials outside of the general purposes and policies of grand jury secrecy, which as discussed, do not outweigh the Committee's compelling need for disclosure."

And while the House may have wrapped up its Ukraine investigation before the end of last year, the committee still has impeachment-related investigative work on its agenda, according to the ruling. Rogers cited the House Judiciary Committee's December impeachment report, which, she said, "makes clear that although two Articles of Impeachment have been approved, the Committee's impeachment investigation related to the Mueller Report is ongoing."

In its efforts to continue where the Mueller probe left off, the Democrat-led Judiciary Committee asked a federal judge to release the sealed grand jury materials from the special counsel's investigation in July. The move came after a months-long standoff between committee Democrats and the DOJ over the secret information. In October, a federal district court sided with the committee in a decision that was upheld by Tuesday's ruling.

In her opinion, Rogers added that the "Committee has repeatedly stated that if the grand jury materials reveal new evidence of impeachable offenses, the Committee may recommend new articles of impeachment."

The lone dissenter in the decision was Judge Neomi Rao — a Trump appointee who was confirmed to the bench last March. Rao argued that the committee lacked the necessary legal standing to force the release of the materials in the first place and that the issue should have been moot after the Senate concluded its impeachment trial.

"A reasonable observer might wonder why we are deciding this case at this time," Rao wrote. "After all, the Committee sought these materials preliminary to an impeachment proceeding and the Senate impeachment trial has concluded. Why is this controversy not moot?" The judge went on to criticize her two colleagues in the dissent, writing that they had "simply turn[ed] a blind eye to these very public events."

A DOJ spokesperson did not immediately respond to Blaze Media's request for comment on the ruling.

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