In the ruling, the US district judge Beryl Howell says that while the department had argued that existing law barred it from sharing the materials with Congress, “DoJ is wrong”.
A judge on Friday ordered the justice department to give the House unredacted portions of grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, handing a victory to Democrats who want the material for the impeachment investigation of Donald Trump.
Howell wrote: “In carrying out the weighty constitutional duty of determining whether impeachment of the president is warranted, Congress need not redo the nearly two years of effort spent on the special counsel’s investigation, nor risk being misled by witnesses, who may have provided information to the grand jury and the special counsel that varies from what they tell the House judiciary committee.”
But it also touched on another matter of debate in Congress. The House, Howell wrote, is legally engaged in an impeachment inquiry, despite claims by Trump and Republicans the the investigation is “illegitimate” because the House did not hold a formal vote authorizing it before it began.
“Even in cases of presidential impeachment, a House resolution has never, in fact, been required to begin an impeachment inquiry,” she wrote.
In a statement, the House Judiciary chairman, Jerry Nadler, cheered the decision.
“The court’s thoughtful ruling recognizes that our impeachment inquiry fully comports with the constitution and thoroughly rejects the spurious White House claims to the contrary,” he said. “This grand jury information that the administration has tried to block the House from seeing will be critical to our work.”
Justice department lawyers argued at a hearing earlier this month that House Democrats already had sufficient evidence from Mueller’s investigation, including copies of summaries of FBI witness interviews.
The department had also argued that the House panel did not have a sufficient explanation for how the material would help in the committee’s investigations of Trump, and that impeachment is not a “judicial proceeding” under the law, for which the information could be disclosed.
The court ruling comes after reports that the DoJ has opened a criminal inquiry into the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, a move that has raised concern that Trump is using the department to go after his political opponents.
The news is the latest setback for Trump, who has come under attack on multiple fronts. Over the past month, a parade of witnesses have defied White House efforts to stonewall the House impeachment inquiry, delivering remarkable testimony in the expanding investigation involving Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukraine president for a political favor.
Congressional impeachment investigators issued subpoenas Friday to three more Trump administration officials, demanding that they testify in the probe.
The chairs of the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry subpoenaed two officials of the White House Office of Management and Budget: acting director Russell Vought and Michael Duffey, who oversees national security programs. They also subpoenaed state department counselor T Ulrich Brechbuhl.
Investigators asked all three earlier this month to testify, but none have appeared.
The Trump administration has refused to make its officials available for depositions in the investigation and resisted supplying documents as well. But witnesses have been appearing anyway after they are issued subpoenas, including key witnesses Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, and Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine.
“The committees therefore have no choice but to issue a subpoena compelling your mandatory appearance,” the letters read.
The impeachment inquiry, sparked by a whistleblower complaint, centers on Trump’s efforts to extract a commitment from Ukraine’s new president to investigate former vice-president and 2020 frontrunner Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Investigators want to know why nearly $400m in military aid to Ukraine was delayed, even though it was approved by Congress and signed into law by Trump. Others have testified that Trump was demanding investigations of Democrats in exchange for the aid and for an Oval Office meeting coveted by Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, is also reportedly in talks to sit for a deposition with the House committees investigating impeachment.
Bolton, who abruptly left the administration amid sharp foreign policy disagreements with the president and members of his cabinet, reportedly likened the effort to influence Ukraine in return for domestic political favors to a “drug deal”.
Trump announced Bolton’s departure in a tweet, and the former official has since been publicly critical of the president’s foreign policy.