By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday said it has appealed a judge’s ruling ordering it to turn over an unredacted copy of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report detailing Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election to a Democratic-led congressional committee.
In a filing in federal court, the Justice Department also asked U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell to put on hold her Friday order while the appeal is pending. Howell directed the administration to turn over the unredacted report to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee by Wednesday, while also validating the legality of the impeachment inquiry against Trump.
The department previously tried to block Democrats from accessing the full Mueller report, saying that doing so would require the disclosure of secret grand jury materials and potentially harm ongoing investigations. The Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena seeking the full report.
“A stay is warranted because, without a stay, the department will be irreparably harmed,” the department wrote in its notice to the court. “Once that information is disclosed, it cannot be recalled, and the confidentiality of the grand jury information will be lost for all time.”
The judge ordered the House Judiciary Committee to respond to the department’s requested stay by noon (1600 GMT) on Tuesday. The administration’s appeal went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit.
The scathing 75-page opinion by Howell, the chief judge in her federal judicial district, blasted the White House and Justice Department for “stonewalling” House subpoenas for information in the impeachment inquiry and declared that there was no need for the House to pass a resolution formally launching the probe.
The ruling undercut claims by Trump and fellow Republicans in Congress who have attacked the process House Democrats have used.
Mueller submitted his report to U.S. Attorney General William Barr in March after completing a 22-month investigation that detailed Russia’s campaign of hacking and propaganda to boost Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 election as well as extensive contacts between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.
Barr, a Trump appointee who Democrats have accused of trying to protect the president politically, in April released the 448-page report with some parts blacked out, or redacted.
The current impeachment inquiry centres not on the findings of the Mueller report, but on Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate a domestic political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, a move that House Democrats have described as an improper solicitation of foreign interference in a U.S. election.
“According to public statements made by the Speaker of the House, the Mueller report is not the current focus of impeachment activity,” the department wrote.
The department added that it believes the appellate court will agree that Democrats have “not demonstrated a particularized need for the grand jury information in light of the information already in the public domain and the much different focus of ongoing impeachment proceedings in the House.”
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Will Dunham)