House tells Supreme Court its investigation into possible impeachable offenses isn't over

WASHINGTON – House Democrats told the Supreme Court that it needs grand jury evidence from the Russia probe as they continue to investigate whether President Donald Trump had committed additional impeachable offenses.

In a court filing Monday, the House Judiciary Committee said the secret grand jury evidence gathered by former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation "is central" to its inquiry into possible obstruction of justice by the president. "If this material reveals new evidence supporting the conclusion that President Trump committed impeachable offenses ... the Committee will proceed accordingly – including, if necessary, by considering whether to recommend new articles of impeachment," Douglas Letter, the House's general counsel, wrote.

Letter said the committee is also looking into improper political influence in the Justice Department's handling of the cases of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, two presidential allies who were indicted as a result of the Mueller investigation.

Court sides with Congress: DC appeals court allows release of secret Mueller grand jury testimony to Congress

The Justice Department has argued the House committee isn't entitled to grand jury evidence, saying it has failed to explain which specific testimony it needs access to or how it would help its investigation into potential obstruction by the president.

"Not only does the public have an interest in protecting grand-jury secrecy, but (the House committee) has provided no basis to conclude that it has urgent need of the requested materials for a hypothetical second impeachment," Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote.

House Democrats and the Justice Department have been locked in a legal battle over the grand jury evidence. In March, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the House committee is entitled to the evidence. The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to review the lower court's ruling.

Letter told the Supreme Court that the committee still needs the grand jury material even if the impeachment proceedings, which focused on the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine, have concluded.

"The Committee’s investigation did not cease with the conclusion of the impeachment trial," Letter wrote.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, President Donald Trump and former special council Robert Mueller.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, President Donald Trump and former special council Robert Mueller.

The House committee's investigation focuses on instances of possible obstruction of justice detailed in Mueller's voluminous report, released last year. A separate but related subpoena seeks testimony from former White House counsel Donald McGahn, a key witness on possible obstruction by Trump. The Trump administration has blocked McGahn from testifying, saying Congress can't force high-ranking presidential aides to testify.

In February, a three-judge appeals court panel ruled that McGahn does not have to testify, saying the judiciary can't be an "ombudsman" who resolves disputes between the executive and legislative branches of government. The full appeals reheard the case last month.

In the Monday filing, Letter suggested that the committee's investigation has expanded to include the Justice Department's handling of the cases of Stone and Flynn.

Separation of powers: Trump administration faces tough questions from federal court in separation of powers disputes with Congress

The department was met with swift backlash in February after it backed away from a stiff prison recommendation for Stone, who was convicted in November of lying to Congress and obstructing the Russia investigation to protect Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign. Four career attorneys who prosecuted Stone left the case in apparent protest.

The Justice Department, again, sparked a political firestorm when it sought to drop the prosecution of Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser. Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his communications with a former Russian ambassador. Flynn later reversed course, claiming investigators trapped him into making a false statement.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan tapped a retired federal judge to challenge the Justice Department's bid to dismiss Flynn's case and to address whether the former Army general committed perjury after claiming innocence from a crime he had earlier admitted.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: House to Supreme Court: Mueller grand jury key to impeachment inquiry