House look­ing for po­ten­tial lies

Top lawyer urges judges to re­lease still-se­cret ma­te­rial from spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Matthew Barakat

WASH­ING­TON — The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ top lawyer told a fed­eral ap­peals court Mon­day that the House is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump lied to spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, and the at­tor­ney urged the judges to or­der the re­lease of still-se­cret ma­te­rial from Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Two of the three judges who heard ar­gu­ments at the Court of Ap­peals for the D.C. Cir­cuit — Ju­dith Rogers, a Bill Clin­ton ap­pointee, and Thomas Grif­fith, an ap­pointee of Ge­orge W. Bush — seemed pre­pared to or­der at least some of the ma­te­rial sought by the House to be turned over.

House Gen­eral Coun­sel Dou­glas Let­ter told the judges that the need for the still-se­cret ma­te­rial redacted from the Mueller re­port is “im­mense” be­cause it will help House mem­bers an­swer the ques­tion, “Did the pres­i­dent lie? Was the pres­i­dent not truth­ful in his re­sponses to the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion?” in his writ­ten re­sponses to the probe.

The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee is seek­ing grand jury tes­ti­mony and other de­tails redacted from the pub­lic ver­sion of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion.

Last month a judge or­dered the

Jus­tice De­part­ment to turn over the redacted ma­te­rial, but the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pealed. What­ever the ap­peals panel de­cides, the case is likely headed to the Supreme Court.

Grif­fith sug­gested that the House had a par­tic­u­lar need for the ma­te­rial since the Mueller re­port ul­ti­mately left it to Congress to de­cide whether Trump had ob­structed the Mueller probe.

But a third judge, Trump ap­pointee Neomi Rao, seemed more sym­pa­thetic to the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s ar­gu­ments against re­leas­ing the in­for­ma­tion. She ques­tioned whether the courts should get in­volved in any way in a dis­pute over im­peach­ment be­tween the leg­isla­tive and ex­ec­u­tive branches.

Jus­tice De­part­ment lawyers say they are barred from re­leas­ing the redacted ma­te­rial, in part be­cause an im­peach­ment in­quiry does not qual­ify as a “ju­di­cial pro­ceed­ing” un­der the fed­eral law gov­ern­ing re­lease of grand jury ma­te­ri­als.

Let­ter said peo­ple con­nected to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion have al­ready been con­victed of ly­ing to Congress about is­sues re­lated to what Mueller was in­ves­ti­gat­ing. So, he said, it’s far from a stretch for Congress to in­ves­ti­gate whether Trump lied.

“There is ev­i­dence, very sadly, that the pres­i­dent might have pro­vided un­truth­ful an­swers. This, there­fore, is ob­vi­ously a key part of a pos­si­ble im­peach­ment in­quiry.”

He said the House im­peach­ment in­quiry is pro­ceed­ing on two tracks: the “Ukraine mat­ter” as well as “the Mueller re­port’s dis­cus­sion: Did the pres­i­dent carry out ob­struc­tion of jus­tice and re­lated bad acts?”

Democrats’ ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment are likely to fo­cus mostly on Ukraine, though they haven’t ruled out wrap­ping in ad­di­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Grif­fith, in his ques­tion­ing, raised the pos­si­bil­ity of re­leas­ing less ma­te­rial than what U.S. District Judge Beryl How­ell called for in

her Oct. 25 or­der. Grif­fith asked whether it made more sense for a judge to hold a hear­ing and go through each redac­tion in the Mueller re­port and hear ar­gu­ments on whether Congress could ar­tic­u­late a par­tic­u­lar­ized need for that in­for­ma­tion.

He also asked whether the in­for­ma­tion could per­haps be re­leased on a lim­ited ba­sis to House staff and lawyers while the courts con­tinue to hear ar­gu­ments on the broader ques­tion of what can be fully pro­vided to Congress.

Democrats be­lieve the redacted in­for­ma­tion could shed light on key episodes of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in­clud­ing dis­cus­sions Trump is re­ported to have had with as­so­ciates about the re­lease of stolen emails dur­ing the

cam­paign and con­ver­sa­tions about a 2016 Trump Tower meet­ing at which Trump’s el­dest son ex­pected to re­ceive dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Hil­lary Clin­ton.

In court pa­pers, House lawyers cited one redac­tion that “ap­pears to re­late to grand jury ev­i­dence in­di­cat­ing that Pres­i­dent Trump sought or ob­tained ad­vance knowl­edge of Wik­iLeaks’s plans dur­ing the cam­paign” to re­lease dam­ag­ing emails re­lated to Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign. In his writ­ten tes­ti­mony, Trump said he had no rec­ol­lec­tion of any par­tic­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions about the hacked emails.

The ques­tions about whether Trump lied in his writ­ten tes­ti­mony to Mueller come as Trump tweeted Mon­day he might

be will­ing to of­fer writ­ten tes­ti­mony as part of the House im­peach­ment in­quiry.

Other redac­tions cited in the court pa­pers re­late to con­tacts mem­bers of the Trump cam­paign met with Ukrainian of­fi­cials “and there­fore may be rel­e­vant to the House’s ex­am­i­na­tion of whether the Pres­i­dent com­mit­ted im­peach­able of­fenses by so­lic­it­ing Ukrainian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2020 Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.”

In pub­lic pro­ceed­ings last week in front of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, the im­peach­ment in­quiry fo­cused on whether the pres­i­dent with­held aid from Ukraine to pres­sure the govern­ment there to launch a pub­lic in­ves­ti­ga­tion of for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and his son Hunter.

AN­DREW HARNIK/AP

Two judges are skep­ti­cal over the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s claim that it can defy Congress’ re­quest for Mueller re­port ma­te­ri­als.

OLIVIER DOULIERY/TNS

For­mer Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller tes­ti­fies be­fore the House in July.

SU­SAN WALSH/AP

At­tor­ney Dou­glas Let­ter is the House’s lead at­tor­ney in the case.

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