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More Trump Charges Possible, Lawyer Says: Impeachment Update

Andrew Harris
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More Trump Charges Possible, Lawyer Says: Impeachment Update

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in Senate floor speeches Friday, gave no indication of progress in resolving the standoff over how to conduct the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Congress returns to Washington next week, and the Democratic-controlled House hasn’t sent the Senate the two impeachment articles adopted in December.

Here are the latest developments:

More Trump Charges Possible, Lawyer Says (2:07 p.m.)

A lawyer for House Democrats told an appeals court Friday the chamber still needs to see some of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s secret grand jury materials, even though the House impeached Trump based on events arising after the Russia probe ended.

Attorney Douglas Letter said the information on Mueller’s investigation is still relevant and may yet lead House Democrats to consider additional articles of impeachment. “That is on the table, there is no doubt,” he said.

Justice Department lawyers want the three-judge panel to overturn an October trial court ruling that granted the Judiciary Committee’s request for access. The Trump administration contends House Democrats failed to show a “particularized need” for the information, which includes redacted passages and related transcripts.

Justice Department lawyer Mark Freeman told the court that lawmakers’ need to see the Mueller material has lessened since the judge’s ruling in October because the House impeached Trump over separate conduct related to Ukraine.

“The House has adopted two articles of impeachment that don’t have anything to do with this case,” he said.

Grand jury materials are typically kept secret to protect innocent parties and ongoing investigations.

“There’s no case that comes anywhere close” to saying Congress can’t go to court to enforce its investigatory powers related to impeachment, Letter told Judge Neomi Rao, a Trump nominee. Letter said the Justice Department’s opposition to the material’s release was “astonishing.”

Also hearing the case were judges Thomas Griffith, an appointee of President George W. Bush, and Judith Wilson Rogers, a Bill Clinton nominee.

Schumer Suggests No Progress on Trial Plan (1:04 p.m.)

Schumer suggested that Republicans and Democrats haven’t made progress on negotiating procedures for Trump’s Senate impeachment trial.

“It may feel like we are no closer to establishing the rules for a Senate trial than when we last met, but the vital question of whether or not we have a fair trial ultimately rests with a majority of senators in this chamber,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Separately, McConnell defended his decision to coordinate with the White House on the impeachment trial and criticized Schumer for consulting with House leaders who will be prosecuting the case.

It’s “obviously a nonstarter” that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have any influence over the Senate trial process, McConnell said.

Senators are not like jurors in a normal court trial, the majority leader said.

“Impeachment is not a narrow legal question, but a deeply political one as well,” McConnell said. “This is a political body -- we do not stand apart from the issues of the day.”

McConnell said Trump should get the same treatment in his Senate trial that senators used in 1999 for then-President Bill Clinton. In the first phase, the House presented its case and the White House offered its defense. Senators decided during the second phase whether to hear testimony from witnesses.

Schumer responded that McConnell “has been clear and vocal that he has no intention to be impartial” in the proceedings.

The Democrat pointed to newly disclosed emails showing administration officials’ concerns about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine, saying they show that “the president’s men, his top advisers” are needed to testify. -- Laura Litvan

Judge Lets House See Giuliani Ally’s Records (12:32 p.m.)

A federal judge in New York ruled Friday that the House Intelligence Committee can review evidence seized from Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, who is being prosecuted for campaign-finance violations.

Lawyers for Parnas had signaled his willingness to cooperate with the congressional impeachment inquiry since his arrest in October, but the effort was hampered because the evidence he wanted to turn over was being held by the FBI and federal prosecutors.

The materials included documents seized from Parnas’s home in Florida and the contents of his mobile phone.

A lawyer for Parnas told U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in a letter Monday that the U.S. was returning those materials to him. Berman approved the request for disclosure of the evidence on Friday. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan didn’t oppose the move.

Parnas and a business associate, Igor Fruman, were involved in the effort by Giuliani, Trump’s private lawyer, to dig up political dirt in Ukraine on Joe Biden. Parnas and Fruman are charged with laundering foreign funds into U.S. political campaigns and masking the true source of political contributions. -- Christian Berthelsen

House Asks Court to Enforce McGahn Subpoena (11:41 a.m.)

A lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee urged a federal appeals court to order former White House Counsel Donald McGahn to testify before lawmakers, saying the Trump administration has engaged in an “unprecedented refusal” to comply with congressional subpoenas.

The administration’s actions left the House committee with no choice but to ask a court to compel enforcement, attorney Megan Barbero said, adding, “that is why we are here.”

Earlier in Friday’s court argument, Justice Department lawyer Hashim Mooppan said the court had no jurisdiction to rule in the dispute between the president and Congress. Mooppan said McGahn and other White House officials have absolute immunity from compelled testimony.

Judge Thomas Beall Griffith suggested that latter claim may be “extravagant.”

Still, Griffith asked Barbero, the House lawyer, whether she’s pressing her argument to protect the House’s oversight power or because it’s considering further articles of impeachment against Trump.

One of the two articles approved by the House concern the withholding of U.S. aid to Ukraine in mid-2019. McGahn, who left the White House in October 2018, “was long gone by then,” Griffith said. The other article of impeachment charged Trump with obstructing Congress.

Barbero said that while the effort to get McGahn’s testimony began as an exercise of the House’s oversight power, “we remain here because of the impeachment.” If McGahn’s testimony produces new evidence of obstruction by the president, “the committee will proceed accordingly,” Barbero said.

Asked whether that means additional articles of impeachment are possible, Barbero said McGahn’s testimony about what he witnessed before stepping down could be relevant to the question of whether Trump should be removed from office. -- Andrew Harris

DOJ Asks Court to Ignore McGahn Subpoena (10:32 a.m.)

A Trump administration lawyer urged a federal appeals court to decide it lacks the power to order former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify to the House Judiciary Committee.

If the court starts ruling on such disputes between the president and Congress, “it will never end,” Justice Department lawyer Hashim Mooppan told the three-judge panel in Washington. “There will be case after case after case, and this court will be in the business of resolving disputes over information.”

The judiciary shouldn’t be picking winners and losers in a “political food fight” between the president and the House, Mooppan said.

Judge Thomas Beall Griffith said the Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected presidential claims of absolute immunity against providing testimony, citing the 1974 Supreme Court ruling that required President Richard Nixon to turn over White House tape recordings. That case involved a judicial subpoena, not a congressional subpoena, Mooppan said.

“Your position is no one has standing” to bring such an action, Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson told Moopan.

Mooppan confirmed that position, saying that allowing such suits would shift power from the executive branch to Congress.

The argument is continuing, and a separate three-judge panel also will hear arguments on House Democrats’ bid for some of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s secret grand jury materials. -- Andrew Harris

Court to Hear Appeal on McGahn Testimony (6 a.m.)

U.S. appeals courts will hear back-to-back arguments Friday on whether to enforce House Judiciary Committee demands for testimony from former White House Counsel Donald McGahn and for some of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s secret grand jury materials.

The Trump administration is seeking to overturn lower court rulings backing the committee. The Justice Department says McGahn is constitutionally immune to the Judiciary Committee subpoena because he is a former close adviser to the president.

The Judiciary panel says it’s continuing its investigation even after the House impeached Trump and as Speaker Nancy Pelosi spars with McConnell over how to proceed with a trial. McGahn’s testimony and the Mueller materials are still of vital importance, the House committee contends.

“McGahn was a witness to several of the president’s past efforts to undermine investigations into foreign interference in elections,” said House General Counsel Douglas Letter’s brief for the Judiciary Committee. If McGahn produces new evidence, the committee may consider “whether to recommend new articles of impeachment,” Letter wrote.

House Democrats have sought to question McGahn since shortly after the release last April of Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. McGahn resigned as White House counsel in October 2018 and didn’t appear for a hearing scheduled by the Judiciary Committee in May. A judge ruled in favor of the committee in November.

The committee also sued for the right to review Mueller’s secret grand jury evidence and transcripts. On Oct. 25, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington rejected Justice Department arguments that the House impeachment inquiry wasn’t the type of judicial proceeding that would warrant the release of grand jury materials.

“Impeachment based on anything less than all relevant evidence would compromise the public’s faith in the process,” Judge Beryl Howell wrote then. -- Andrew Harris

Catch Up on Impeachment Coverage

Key Events

The House impeachment resolution is H.Res. 755. The Intelligence Committee Democrats’ impeachment report is here.Gordon Sondland’s transcript is here and here; Kurt Volker’s transcript is here and here. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s transcript is here and here; the transcript of Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to the secretary of State, is here. The transcript of David Holmes, a Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, is here.The transcript of William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, is here and here. State Department official George Kent’s testimony is here and here. Testimony by Alexander Vindman can be found here, and the Fiona Hill transcript is here. Laura Cooper’s transcript is here; Christopher Anderson’s is here and Catherine Croft’s is here. Jennifer Williams’ transcript is here and Timothy Morrison’s is here. The Philip Reeker transcript is here. Mark Sandy’s is here.

--With assistance from Billy House, Laura Litvan and Christian Berthelsen.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in federal court in Washington at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo

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