DOJ wants Mueller material sealed while fighting impeachment probe

President Donald Trump walks out of the North Portico of the White House in Washington on Monday to travel to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and then on to Chicago. (Andrew Harnik/AP photo via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Justice Department took early appeal steps Monday after a federal judge upheld the legality of the impeachment inquiry led by Congress into President Donald Trump.

Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell had issued the decision Friday in an order that gave the Department of Justice until Oct. 30 to turn over redacted secret grand jury material from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Demanding a stay, the department notes that, “once the information is disclosed, it cannot be recalled, and the confidentiality of the grand jury information will be lost for all time.”

The motion also emphasizes that the impeachment investigation will likely drag into 2020, making the Wednesday disclosure deadline premature. House Democrats opened the investigation to nail down whether Trump sought an illegal quid pro quo from the Ukrainian government earlier this summer. It is undisputed that Trump kept Ukraine waiting months for military aid awarded by Congress while urging Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a frontrunner in the 2020 presidential race.

The Justice Department said Monday that Muller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has taken a back seat to the new inquiry.

“Although the HJC claims that it needs the information promptly because it continues to investigate matters connected to the Mueller report, there appears little dispute that, for now, that investigation is secondary, and Congressman Schiff and the House Intelligence Committee — not the Judiciary Committee — is the lead committee heading the congressional investigation,” the motion states.

Howell, an Obama appointee, showed little patience in her ruling filed Friday for the Justice Department’s assertion that the House Judiciary Committee failed to demonstrate a particularized need for material that had been redacted from the Mueller report.

The “arguments smack of farce,” she wrote.

“The reality is that DOJ and the White House have been openly stonewalling the House’s efforts to get information by subpoena and by agreement, and the White House has flatly stated that the Administration will not cooperate with congressional requests for information,” the 75-page opinion continued.

Howell also said access to the grand jury material will equip lawmakers to gather evidence that the special counsel did not pursue, potentially answering the question Mueller left unanswered: whether the president committed an impeachable offense.

“Tipping the scale even further toward disclosure is the public’s interest in a diligent and thorough investigation into, and in a final determination about, potentially impeachable conduct by the president described in the Mueller report,” Howell wrote.

The Justice Department noted in its Monday filing that Howell was aware her ruling would be appealed, having said herself in court proceedings earlier this month that the U.S. District Court proceedings were “a speed bump on the way to the circuit for review.”

Howell ordered the committee to respond to the Justice Department’s stay request by noon on Oct. 29.

The Justice Department and the House Judiciary Committee did not respond to requests for comment.