Former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House intelligence committee on July 24, 2019, to detail his Justice Department investigation of Russian interference of the 2016 U.S. election. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
March 10 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered the Justice Department to hand over secret grand jury evidence and records stemming from from its Russia investigation, concluding that Democratic lawmakers have a right to see it.
A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to uphold a lower court ruling that said Democrats can ask for portions of former special counsel Robert Mueller's report that had not been made public.
The Democratic-held House judiciary committee has been fighting for the grand jury materials since last summer, as part of a bid to keep up the department's investigation into Russian electoral interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The Justice Department argued the committee needs a court order to see the materials -- and even with that, without a judicial proceeding, they could only see redacted versions of the documents. The appellate court disagreed.
"It is the district court, not the executive [branch] or [Justice] Department, that controls access to the grand jury materials at issue here," Judge Judith Rogers, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, wrote for the majority. "The department has objected to disclosure of the redacted grand jury materials, but the department has no interest in objecting to the release of these materials outside of the general purposes and policies of grand jury secrecy, which as discussed, do not outweigh the committee's compelling need for disclosure.
"Special counsel Mueller prepared his report with the expectation that Congress would review it."
The dissenter, Judge Neomi Rao, a Trump appointee, wrote that the lower district court lacked jurisdiction in the case and exceeded its authority in granting the materials' release.
The Justice Department can appeal Tuesday's decision to the full D.C. Circuit Court or take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Democrats seeking more Russia materials were defeated last month in the same appeals court, which ruled they cannot sue to enforce a subpoena for testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn.