US House panel to ask court for Mueller grand jury material

Democrats are trying to focus public attention on Mueller's words and on his 448-page report's contents.

    House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler holds a news conference to discuss the Committee's oversight agenda following the Mueller hearing [Erin Scott/Reuters]
    House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler holds a news conference to discuss the Committee's oversight agenda following the Mueller hearing [Erin Scott/Reuters]

    US House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said his committee is filing a court petition Friday in an effort to obtain secret grand jury material underlying former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report.

    The panel is also expected to file a lawsuit next week to try to enforce a subpoena against former White House counsel Donald McGahn, a key Mueller witness, if he doesn't comply before then. That suit is expected to challenge the White House's claim that former White House employees have "absolute immunity" from testifying before Congress.

    The move comes after Mueller's testimony on Wednesday about his 22-month investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, as well as possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

    In the first of back-to-back House hearings, Mueller told Congress he had not "exculpated" Trump as the president has claimed.

    Democrats are trying to focus public attention on Mueller's words and on his 448-page report's contents, including several episodes in which Trump sought to influence the special counsel's investigation into Russia election interference.

    Mueller concluded that he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice. He also concluded that there was no evidence of a criminal conspiracy between Trump's campaign and Russia. 

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    Nadler said before the court filing that the grand jury information "is critically important for our ability to examine witnesses" like McGahn and for them to investigate the president.

    It is unclear what new information might be found in the grand jury transcripts. Many of the high-profile witnesses connected to the White House, for instance, appeared for voluntary questioning before Mueller's team rather than before the grand jury.

    The panel has struggled to bring in witnesses like McGahn who spoke extensively to Mueller because the White House has directed them to refuse to testify. Trump has said he will fight "all of the subpoenas".

    Nadler said the committee is still negotiating with McGahn for documents and testimony, and the committee will file the lawsuit "in very short order" if he does not comply.

    Impeachment?

    The court battles are beginning as the House leaves for a six-week recess and Democrats are debating whether to impeach the Republican president. 

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    Nadler said the court filing will include a line saying that the materials are necessary "to determine whether the committee should recommend articles of impeachment".

    More than 90 House Democrats have said they favour starting the impeachment process, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants to build the strongest case possible before making that decision, including by going to court to force witnesses to comply.

    On Friday, Pelosi said she is not "running out the clock" on impeachment as Congress heads into their summer recess.

    SOURCE: News agencies