US judge validates Trump impeachment inquiry, orders Mueller document release

US House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff departs after a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees on Capitol Hill on October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 26 October 2019

US judge validates Trump impeachment inquiry, orders Mueller document release

  • Chief US District Judge Beryl Howell ordered the Justice Department to turn over the materials by Oct. 30.
  • The Mueller materials could reveal previously hidden details to lawmakers about Trump’s actions during the 2016 election

WASHINGTON: A US judge on Friday validated the legality of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump and ordered his administration to hand over an unredacted copy of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report detailing Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
US District Judge Beryl Howell, handing a major victory to the Democratic-led House of Representatives, undercut an argument that Trump’s fellow Republicans have made in attacking the impeachment inquiry. The judge said the House need not approve a resolution formally initiating the effort.
The US Constitution gives the House wide latitude in handling impeachment. Democrats began the inquiry without putting such a resolution to a vote.
The judge gave the Justice Department until next Wednesday to provide the blacked out material from the Mueller report that was subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee.
“The reality is that DOJ and the White House have been openly stonewalling the House’s efforts to get information by subpoena and by agreement, and the White House has flatly stated that the Administration will not cooperate with congressional requests for information,” the judge wrote, using an acronym for the Justice Department.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the ruling “another blow to President Trump’s attempt to put himself above the law.”
“This critical court ruling affirms Congress’s authority to expose the truth for the American people,” Pelosi, the top elected Democratic official, said in a statement, adding, “The President will be held accountable – because no one is above the law.”
The Justice Department had argued that the redacted information could not be disclosed because it contained material from grand jury proceedings that was required to be kept secret, but the judge strongly disagreed.
“DOJ is wrong,” Howell said, adding that the committee’s need for disclosure of the materials “is greater than the need for continued secrecy.”
“Impeachment based on anything less than all relevant evidence would compromise the public’s faith in the process,” added Howell, a former federal prosecutor appointed to the bench by Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.
Howell also ruled that the House has undertaken a legal and legitimate impeachment inquiry and criticized efforts by the Justice Department and the committee’s ranking Republican Doug Collins to argue that Democrats had not met the legal threshold.
“Blocking access to evidence collected by a grand jury relevant to an impeachment inquiry, as DOJ urges, undermines the House’s ability to carry out its constitutional responsibility with due diligence,” the judge added.
The Democrats sought access to the redacted materials as part of their effort to build a case for removing Trump from office.
The committee, Howell ruled, “has presented sufficient evidence that its investigation has the preliminary purpose of determining whether to recommend articles (of) impeachment,” referring to formal charges that the House could approve that would trigger a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Trump from office.
A Republican resolution introduced in the Senate on Thursday criticized the process that House Democrats are using in the impeachment inquiry. It argued that a resolution is needed to initiate such an inquiry. The judge disagreed.
“Even in cases of presidential impeachment, a House resolution has never, in fact, been required to begin an impeachment inquiry,” the judge wrote.

'Thoughful ruling'
Democrat Jerrold Nadler, the panel’s chairman, lauded the ruling.
“The court’s thoughtful ruling recognizes that our impeachment inquiry fully comports with the Constitution and thoroughly rejects the spurious White House claims to the contrary,” Nadler said.
Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the department is reviewing the decision.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sought to minimize the importance of the judge’s comments on an impeachment resolution, saying Republicans had argued that it was “unfair and wrong” but “not unconstitutional” for the House to have failed to pass such a measure.
Mueller submitted his report to US 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 the Trump campaign and Moscow.
But when Barr, a Trump appointee who Democrats have accused of trying to protect Trump politically, made the 448-page report public the following month, some parts were blacked out, or redacted.
Mueller said his investigation found insufficient evidence to establish that Trump and his campaign had engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia.
Trump’s administration has refused to comply with subpoenas from House committees in the impeachment inquiry seeking documents and testimony. But some current and former administration officials have defied the White House and testified in the impeachment inquiry.
The impeachment inquiry centers not on the Mueller report but on Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate a domestic political rival, Democrat Joe Biden.


US presidential debate: Biden warns Iran will ‘pay price’ for election interference

Updated 23 October 2020

US presidential debate: Biden warns Iran will ‘pay price’ for election interference

  • Trump and Biden go toe-to-toe on foreign policy, COVID-19 and race
  • Final debate paints two stark pictures of America’s future

NEW YORK: Joe Biden warned Iran would “pay a price” for interfering in the US election if he is elected president.

During a more orderly second debate with President Donald Trump Thursday, the former vice president looked to take the initiative on foreign attempts to influence voters.

Moderator Kirsten Welker asked Biden about revelations from intelligence officials that Russia and Iran had attempted to meddle in the election and obtained voter registration information.

“We know that Russia has been involved, China has been involved to some degree, and now we learn that Iran has been involved,” Biden said, “They will pay a price if I’m elected.”

(AFP)

John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, said this week that Iran used the information to send threatening emails to voters in Florida.  On Thursday, the US Treasury Department responded with new sanctions against five Iranian entities accused of spreading disinformation and division ahead of the election.

Biden’s warning to Iran would have rankled with Trump and his foreign policy team. The president has imposed a maximum pressure policy on Tehran by withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal and imposing tough sanctions.

Trump accuses the previous administration, in which Joe Biden deputized to Barack Obama, of allowing Iran to further its missile program and expand its militias across the Middle East.

On Russia, Biden said Moscow did not want him to get elected, because they know he would be tough on them.

“They know that I know them. And they know me,” Biden said.

Trump said: “There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.”

He accused Biden of receiving money from foreign companies.

“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” Biden said, arguing that he had released all of his tax returns, unlike the president.

(AFP)

“Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption,” Biden said. 

While the second and final debate ahead of the Nov. 3 election was a calmer affair than the first one, it was laden with attacks. 

The rules were different this time: microphones were muted for two-minute stretches to allow the other an uninterrupted answer. 

Welker kept the contentious rivals under control, and made sure things were clear and organized at the venue in Belmont University in Nashville. She got the best reviews of the night. 

A viewer tweeted: “Kristen Welker is putting on a master class in how to moderate a presidential debate.”

The two candidates squared off on foreign policy, the economy, race, healthcare, and climate change. 

(AFP)

The debate kicked off with exchanges over the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 in the US, where most states are seeing a dramatic resurgence of the virus. 

Trump defended the way his administration handled COVID-19. “We closed up the greatest economy in the world in order to fight this horrible disease that came from China,” he said.

The president argued that the mortality rate has decreased and a vaccine would probably be ready before the end of the year. 

“We’re rounding the turn. We’re learning to live with it,” said Trump. 

“We’re learning to die with it,” replied Biden, who criticized the president for not having a plan to address the crisis.

“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said. 

(AFP)

Pivoting to a report that the current administration could not locate the parents of more than 500 children detained at the border with Mexico and separated from their families, Trump said children are brought across the border by “coyotes and drug cartels.” 

Defending his immigration policies, Trump said the border is now more secure than ever. 

He said he is “trying very hard” to reunite children with their parents. 

Biden called the Trump administration’s inability to locate the parents “criminal.” He said Trump’s family separation policy made America a laughingstock: “It violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”

The president then pressed Biden to answer “who built the cages” that were shown in media reports. Biden dodged the answer. 

The cages were built in 2014 by the Obama administration. 

Biden then promised, if elected, to put in motion reforms that would provide a pathway to citizenship, protected from deportation, for undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers”.  “We owe them,” Biden said.

Discussion heated up when Welker breached the race topic, as the country continues to contend with civil unrest over racial injustice and police brutality.  

Biden said the US has “never, ever lived up” to the promise of liberty and equality for all, a principle upon which it was founded.

Trump said that, other than Abraham Lincoln, “nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump.”

He attacked Biden’s support for the 1994 crime law, which critics say has led to mass incarceration.

But Biden turned to the camera and addressed voters directly:  “You know who I am. You know who he is.” 

Biden called the president a “racist” who “pours fuel on every single racist fire.”

(AFP)

“I think I have great relationships with all people. I am the least racist person in this room,” Trump responded.

Twelve days before the election, American voters were able to watch unfold two visions for the future of their country. It is hard to tell whether the candidates were able to broaden their appeal beyond their own bases and attract the undecided voters, whose numbers are shrinking by the day. 

Millions of them are already standing in long lines outside polling stations, braving night and chilly temperatures, to cast their early, final votes.