The House Judiciary Committee said in a court filing Friday that it's actively considering articles of impeachment and is seeking access to redacted materials from the Mueller report in order to decide whether to move forward with the process.
"Because Department of Justice policies will not allow prosecution of a sitting President, the United States House of Representatives is the only institution of the Federal Government that can now hold President Trump accountable for these actions," the committee wrote in a filing in U.S. District Court.
"To do so, the House must have access to all the relevant facts and consider whether to exercise its full Article I powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity—approval of articles of impeachment," the filing said.
The request follows former special counsel Robert Mueller's testimony earlier this week, which covered publicly available portions of his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and efforts by President Trump to interfere with the investigation.
The committee is seeking access to all the portions of the Mueller report that were redacted because they contained grand jury material ("redacted pursuant to Rule 6(e)"). Specifically, they're asking for transcripts of testimony and any grand jury exhibits that relate directly to four things:
- Mr. Trump's knowledge of Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 election;
- His knowledge of links to or contacts with Russia by people on his campaign;
- His knowledge of criminal acts by himself or members of his administration, campaign, or associates; and
- Actions taken by former White House counsel Don McGahn during the campaign, transition, or McGahn's time as White House counsel.
"We are continuing an investigation of the president's malfeasances, and we will consider what we have to consider, including whether we should recommend articles of impeachment to the House," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York,at a press conference announcing the court filing. "We may decide to recommend articles of impeachment at some point. We may not."
The counsel to the House Judiciary Committee Democratic staff said the filing essentially gives notice that the committee is actively considering articles of impeachment "in the most formal and official way a committee can."
It is, the counsel said, "as serious a step as we can take at this time."
The committee's top Republican, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, released a statement saying that courts would not allow Democrats to access the grand jury material unless they formally voted to open an impeachment inquiry. He predicted that the Democrats' legal fight is "sure to fail" and would diminish the ability of lawmakers "to conduct oversight now and into the future."
"If my colleagues want grand jury information, they should propose legislation allowing Congress to access it," Collins said.
But the court filing states that a formal resolution is not required by the Constitution to begin considering articles of impeachment.
"What we're doing is consistent with how the House and the Judiciary Committee in particular has done impeachment throughout," Democratic counsel said, arguing that the committee's hearings on the Mueller report – along with a formal impeachment resolution offered in January by Rep. Brad Sherman that has been referred to the committee – constitute a formal inquiry.
"That is the impeachment process, and we are deep into it," the counsel said. "A full vote of the House…would come later, depending on whether or not the committee does recommend articles of impeachment."
That might come as a surprise to the 100 House Democrats who have publicly said they would back an impeachment inquiry, according to the latest CBS News count. A far smaller number have said they are ready to impeach the president.
The counsels for the Judiciary Committee said the court filing had been authorized by leadership, even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has argued that the House should wait for various investigations and court battles over accessing the president's financial information and business connections to conclude so that the House has the strongest possible argument, should it move to impeach the president.
"We will proceed when we have what we need to proceed. Not one day sooner," she said Friday.
Nadler also announced Friday that early next week, the House will ask the courts to enforce its subpoena of McGahn, who was considered a central witness by the special counsel. The president blocked his testimony before the committee in response to a subpoena last month, arguing that he has absolute immunity that protects him against testifying before Congress.
The Judiciary Committee counsel is hopeful that a favorable ruling in court that forces McGahn to testify before Congress could also give the committee access to several other witnesses the White House says are not required to testify.