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DOJ files brief arguing against House impeachment probe

The Hill logo The Hill 9/14/2019 Tal Axelrod

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) argued Friday that a federal court should reject the House Judiciary Committee's efforts to obtain evidence and testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation in part because Democrats cannot agree on the scope of the panel's inquiry.

The DOJ noted conflicting language used by House Democrats as to whether the Judiciary Committee's probe into obstruction of justice, among other things, amounted to an impeachment investigation, specifically citing reluctance among House leadership to label the inquiry as such.

"Most prominently, the speaker of the House has been emphatic that the investigation is not a true impeachment proceeding," the DOJ wrote, adding that Pelosi said Democrats were "not even close" to a formal impeachment investigation.

The filing also highlighted House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.) statement this month that the Judiciary panel is trying to expedite court cases by convincing federal courts to compel the administration to provide sought after documents and testimony.

House Democrats are scrambling to gain access to grand jury information obtained during the Mueller investigation. The Judiciary committee has argued that its probe is an "impeachment investigation" and is taking action preliminary to "judiciary proceeding" - referring to an ultimate Senate trial - a move they say satisfies an exception to federal grand jury secrecy rules.

The Justice Department rejected that claim Friday, citing conflicting statements among the House Democratic delegation and admissions that the Judiciary panel's probe can lead to several possible outcomes beyond an impeachment vote.

"As the Committee's Chairman has stressed-and as the Speaker of the House and the House Majority Leader both reiterated this week-the purpose of its investigation is to assess numerous possible remedial measures, including censure, articles of impeachment, legislation, Constitutional amendments, and more," the DOJ said. "What may come of this investigation-if anything-remains unknown and unpredictable."

The DOJ went on to argue that even if the House probe was a preliminary impeachment investigation, the federal grand jury secrecy rules must still be honored.

"[I]mpeachment proceedings in Congress - including hypothetical removal proceedings in the Senate - are not 'judicial proceedings' under the plain and ordinary meaning of that term."

The DOJ's court filing came a day after the judiciary panel voted to expand its powers to investigate Trump while it mulls launching formal impeachment proceedings.

Jerrold Nadler wearing glasses: DOJ files brief arguing against House impeachment probe © Getty Images DOJ files brief arguing against House impeachment probe

While a majority of the Democratic House delegation has voiced support for impeachment in some form, divides remain over whether the party should support an investigation into impeachment or a formal impeachment inquiry that requires a vote in the House.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and several other committee chairs have favored impeachment as a means of expediting compliance with document and testimony requests and subpoenas, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has warned the prospect has no chance of passing a GOP-controlled Senate, could unite Trump's base and might endanger Democrats in swing districts where impeachment is particularly unpopular.

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