By MICHAEL BALSAMO Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department told a judge Friday that the House Judiciary Committee shouldn't get access to secret grand jury material amassed during the special counsel's Russia investigation, even as it weighs whether to pursue impeachment.
The response comes nearly two months after the committee filed a petition in federal court arguing that lawmakers need to obtain the grand jury material in order to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment.
In court papers filed in federal court in Washington, the Justice Department argued the committee hadn’t provided a sufficient explanation about how the material would help in the panel’s investigations of President Donald Trump. The government also argued that any potential impeachment proceeding in Congress wouldn’t be considered a “judicial proceeding” under law, for which the information could be disclosed.
"What may come of this investigation — if anything — remains unknown and unpredictable," the department said in the filing.
The Justice Department also argued there is a "continuing need for secrecy" about recent grand jury proceedings because there are several investigations still underway that grew out of Mueller's probe, according to Friday's filing.
The grand jury information that is blacked out in special counsel Robert Mueller's 448-page report is only a "tiny percentage" of the document, the government argued. A redacted version of the report was released to the public in April, and a less-redacted version, in which only grand jury information was blacked out, was made available to some lawmakers, including the committee's chairman and ranking member.
The committee had sought to obtain the full, unredacted version of Mueller's report and any underlying transcripts and exhibits mentioned in the report, along with transcripts of grand jury testimony.
It's unclear what new information might be found in the grand jury transcripts. Many of the high-profile witnesses connected to the White House, for instance, appeared for voluntary questioning before Mueller's team rather than before the grand jury.
Mueller concluded he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice. He also concluded there was insufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump's campaign and Russia.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stopped short Thursday of saying the House is ready to launch an impeachment investigation of Trump, even as the Judiciary Committee approved ground rules for impeachment hearings.
A spokesperson for the Judiciary Committee did not immediately comment on the court filing.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.