Since they regained control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats have been reluctant to even discuss impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even told The Washington Post last month that impeaching Trump would prove too politically divisive to be feasible, and “he’s just not worth it.”
The fifth-highest ranking House Democrat, Hakeem Jeffries of New York, also said that a Trump impeachment was “off the table,” in a Yahoo! News interview.
“We should only go down that road if the case is compelling, the evidence is overwhelming, and the public sentiment around impeachment is bipartisan in nature,” Jeffries said in the interview. “Those conditions don’t exist right now.”
But after an otherwise low-profile decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. — considered second only to the U.S. Supreme Court as the most important court in the judicial system, according to Why Courts Matter — Democrats may be forced to reconsider their stance on impeachment if they want to obtain the full Russia investigation report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The Mueller report has been held under lock and key by U.S. Attorney general William Barr who has said, as CNBC reported, that he plans to share it with Congress sometime this month, but only in a heavily redacted form. The redactions mean that large amounts of potentially damaging information on Trump and his associates could remain hidden.
A 2-1 ruling by a three-judge D.C. Appeals Court panel in an obscure case last week held that confidential grand jury information could not be released to Congress or the public, even with a federal judge’s order, unless it was necessary to a “judicial proceeding,” according to an account by Politico.
Previously, courts had held that federal judges had the authority to authorize the release of grand jury testimony and information, but the ruling authored by Ronald Reagan appointee Judge Douglas Ginsburg overturned those precedents, agreeing with the current U.S. Justice Department, which is led by Barr, as Talking Points Memo reported. The Mueller report is believed to be largely based on such grand jury information and as a result, is likely to be heavily blacked-out by Barr.
The ruling could force Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump because impeachment may be the only type of “judicial proceeding” that Congress has the ability to carry out. But Democrats now say that the court ruling may not be as restrictive as it appears, according to a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee, quoted by Politico.
“I can understand why Republicans would like to interpret this morning’s decision as cutting off all access by Congress to these materials. There’s probably something very damaging to the president there,” the committee lawyer said. “But no court, including the D.C. Circuit in this morning’s case has ever held that Congress must be in an impeachment proceeding in order to access grand jury materials.”
.@RepJerryNadler on subpoenas and the Mueller Report: " The Department is wrong to try to withhold that information from this Committee. Congress is entitled to all of the evidence. This isn’t just my opinion. It is also a matter of law." pic.twitter.com/NR3vGXmktp— CSPAN (@cspan) April 3, 2019
The House Judiciary Committee voted this week to authorize committee chair Jerrold Nadler to issue subpoenas for the Mueller report and other evidence collected by Mueller, according to The Washington Post. Nadler, however, said he would give Barr more time before issuing any subpoenas.