Democrats ask court to force DOJ's hand on Mueller grand jury materials

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday asked a federal judge to force the Department of Justice (DOJ) to hand over redacted grand jury materials stemming from former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s nearly two-year investigation over the department’s last-minute objection.

House Democrats formally urged Chief Judge Beryl Howell, an Obama appointee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to ignore the agency’s request to remove a Wednesday deadline as the Trump administration seeks permission from an appeals court to keep the grand jury contents under wraps. 

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“This court should deny the stay sought by the Department of Justice so that the Committee on the Judiciary of the U.S. House of Representatives can promptly access grand jury materials essential to its urgent impeachment inquiry,” the Democrats’ court filing reads.

Howell is expected to rule on the DOJ’s request later today.

The dispute over access to the grand jury materials — which were redacted from Mueller’s public report — may figure as a significant battleground if the Democratic impeachment inquiry zeroes in on President TrumpDonald John TrumpCensus Bureau spends millions on ad campaign to mitigate fears on excluded citizenship question Bloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Democratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister MORE’s possible obstruction of justice and his campaign’s interactions with Russia during the 2016 election.

In a key ruling last week, Howell sided with Democratic lawmakers, rejecting the DOJ’s arguments that the information must remain secret. 

“The Department of Justice claims that existing law bars disclosure to the Congress of grand jury information,” Howell wrote in her Friday opinion. “DOJ is wrong.” 

The House Judiciary Committee is seeking the redacted grand jury portions of the Mueller report, as well as related transcripts and exhibits.  

Howell said her decision to grant access comes as Democrats carry out “the weighty constitutional duty of determining whether impeachment of the president is warranted.”

Despite ruling in favor of Democrats on the substance of the disclosure fight, however, Howell is expected later today to grant the DOJ’s request for a stay, according to legal experts.

“Given the constitutional sensitivity of the matter, the stay will almost certainly be granted pending appeal,” Bradley Moss, a national security attorney, told The Hill.

During his nearly two-year probe, Mueller did not establish that the Trump campaign criminally coordinated Moscow’s 2016 election interference. While the special counsel declined to say if Trump obstructed justice, Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrTrump says he has 'total confidence' in Barr In defense of William Barr Trump suggests he may sue over Mueller investigation MORE and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinGraham requests interviews with DOJ, FBI officials as part of probe into Russia investigation DOJ won't charge former FBI Deputy Director McCabe Rosenstein says he authorized release of Strzok-Page texts MORE concluded Trump had not done so.

The special counsel’s 448-page report is embedded with a series of redactions to conceal various types of sensitive information. Grand jury materials are generally kept secret to protect jurors, witnesses and other parties, but these redactions can be lifted upon a judicial order.