The Trump administration lost badly in the District Circuit Court of Washington, D.C. on obtaining the redacted portions of the Mueller Report on grounds that it related to Grand Jury testimony. The DOJ argued that the impeachment inquiry was illegal. The judge issued a scathing opinion, ordering the Justice Department to comply with the Subpoena from the House inquiry as follows:
“Even in cases of presidential impeachment, a House resolution has never, in fact, been required to begin an impeachment inquiry,” Howell wrote.
The DOJ will appeal the ruling. Judge Howell has legitimize the impeachment inquiry and given it powers reserved for the judicial branch. The DOJ knows that if the appellate court rules against them, this will set a precedent and make it much easier to get compliance on a subpoena. The ruling elevates the inquiry beyond normal Congressional investigations, giving subpoenas the same weight as in court cases. Judge Howell states:
“(A)n impeachment trial is an exercise of judicial power,” Howell wrote. “Contrary to (the Justice Department’s) position — and as historical practice, the Federalist Papers, the text of the Constitution, and Supreme Court precedent all make clear — impeachment trials are judicial in nature and constitute judicial proceedings.”
What happens when subpoena are ignored? It is rare, but there is precedent when Attorney General Eric Holder defied an subpoena from Congress. Holder was found in Contempt of Congress in June 2012 for refusal to turn over documents in regards to the Fast and Furious scandal. The documents were sought to show Holder had knowledge of the program earlier than what he stated in his testimony. Presidential Candidate Rick Perry called on Holder to resign. The Obama administration and the Department of Justice declined to prosecute citing executive privilege. (see links)
However, Howell’s ruling, if allowed to stand, makes the subpoena battle between the Executive and Judiciary branches. so the Holder precedent doesn’t apply. The Watergate tape case seems applicable, and when the Supreme Court ruled against Nixon, he complied.
What House Majority leader, Nancy Pelosi move in structuring the inquiry is brilliant. Keep the committee chairmen out of the limelight and allow the depositions to go forward as quickly as possible with 3 committees meeting together. This means a group of 100 representatives, nearly a quarter of all representatives in Congress.
Intelligence – Chaired by Adam Schiff
Foreign Affairs – Chaired by Eliot Engel
Oversight and Reform – Carolyn Maloney (currently acting chair due to the passing of Elijah Cummings).
According to Wikipedia, “The Intelligence Committee will focus on the contents of the whistleblower complaint and whether the complaint may have been wrongfully hidden from Congress, while the Foreign Affairs Committee will focus on interactions the State Department may have had with the President’s personal attorney Giuliani, and the Oversight and Reform Committee will investigate whether White House classification systems were used to secure potentially damaging records of phone calls between the President and leaders of various countries around the world.”
To help with compliance of the subpoenas, the depositions to date have been taken in closed door sessions. What he has not done, is to exclude all Republican members (47 in total) from participating in the sessions. Of course, without the media coverage, I’m certain many pass on this opportunity.
How much more is there to the inquiry? Good question. There are a total of 51 requests and subpoenas, of which 11 individuals have testified. So, on this basis, we have a long ways to go. There’s a lot of good links summarizing what has taken place. I will begin a special web page for the documents related to the impeachment. For a running unbiased summary, I particularly like Wikipedia.
howell ruling (pdf file) 75 pages
Wikipedia: Impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump
Judge says impeachment inquiry is legal and justifies disclosing grand jury material
Trump impeachment tracker: Following all the action in Congress
Pompeo subpoenaed by House committees for failure to produce Ukraine documents
Key Witness in Impeachment Inquiry Asks Federal Court to Rule Over Testifying
Mr, Charles Kupperman’s case is interesting because he is really trying to know whether “Constitutional Immunity” exists before disregarding a subpoena. My guess is the Federal Court will not help out Mr. Kupperman, because there is no case (violation of law) in front of them. They may wait until the “Don McGahn case” (he refused to testify) is resolved. A lot of gears in motion!
Wikipedia Contempt of Congress
Wikipedia Eric Holder
New York Times: Subpoenas and Requests
White House Letter: Advising Laura Cooper not to testify:
white house blocking testimony