WASHINGTON — The House has a right to see secret grand-jury evidence gathered in the Russia investigation, an appeals court ruled on Tuesday in a victory for Congress’s power to gather information for an impeachment inquiry.
In a 2-to-1 decision, a panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a lower-court ruling that the House had a right to gain access to the information, which was gathered by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, using a grand jury and blacked out in the report on his investigation released last year. The Trump administration had appealed that ruling.
Usually, Congress has no right to view grand jury evidence. But in 1974, the courts permitted lawmakers to see such materials as they weighed whether to impeach President Richard M. Nixon. Last summer, as the House Judiciary Committee weighed whether to impeach Mr. Trump, the panel sought a judicial order to see certain Mueller grand jury materials, too.
Judge Judith Rogers, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, and Judge Thomas Griffith, an appointee of President George W. Bush, sided with Congress. The ruled that lawmakers’ need for the information outweighed the general interest in keeping grand jury evidence secret, and that an impeachment inquiry fit within an exception to the secrecy rules for judicial proceedings.
“The committee states that it needs the unredacted material to review these findings and make its own independent determination about the president’s conduct,” Judge Rogers wrote, adding: “Courts must take care not to second-guess the manner in which the House plans to proceed with its impeachment investigation or interfere with the House’s sole power of impeachment.”
Judge Neomi Rao, a former Trump White House official whom President Trump appointed to the appeals court last year, filed a dissenting opinion.
The decision came less than two weeks after a different three-judge panel on the appeals court ruled, 2 to 1, that Congress had no right to sue to enforce a subpoena against an executive branch official who defied it.
Judge Rogers and Judge Griffith were also part of that panel, but Judge Griffith sided with the Trump administration in that case. Judge Rao was not on that panel.
The House has asked the full appeals court to rehear the subpoena case. The Trump administration could do likewise in the grand jury case.