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 MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump 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 TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments 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 BarrHillicon Valley: Pelosi works to remove legal protections for tech companies from USMCA | Treasury sanctions Russian group over 0 million hack | Facebook sues Chinese individuals for ad fraud | Huawei takes legal action against FCC Biden gets in testy exchange in Iowa: 'You're a damn liar' Huawei to sue US over new FCC restrictions MORE and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinRosenstein, Sessions discussed firing Comey in late 2016 or early 2017: FBI notes Justice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe Judge rules former WH counsel McGahn must testify under subpoena 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.