the House Judiciary Committee can obtain the information for impeachment investigations of President Trump under an exception for “judicial proceedings,” per the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
“[B]ecause that exception encompasses impeachment proceedings and the committee has established a ‘particularized need’ for the grand jury materials, the order of the district court is affirmed,” Judge Judith Rogers wrote in the court’s opinion.
The lower court had claimed that precedent supported the idea that an impeachment trial is akin to a judicial proceeding, citing a case that allowed the disclosure of grand jury material for the impeachment investigation of President Richard Nixon.
Rogers noted that the exception to the grand jury secrecy rule applies in cases “preliminarily [sic] to or in connection with a judicial proceeding,” and that the party requesting it must show a “particularized need.”
I'm going to step right out on the limb and say that this will go to the Supreme Court and will be overruled. I doubt that the SCOTUS will buy the idea that the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure have anything at all to do with impeachment. Beyond that, however, there's a fascinating article on this topic at SCOTUSblog today by W. Burlette Carter: No. The founders did not want Congress doing criminal investigations – even of Trump. This is who Carter is:
Burlette Carter is a professor emerita of law at the George Washington University Law School and author of “Can a Sitting President Be Federally Prosecuted: The Founders Answer.” She filed an amicus brief in support of reversal in Trump v. Mazars.
First, let us consult constitutional history. The British Parliament had the power to bring and investigate criminal charges against any individual. That power was called its power of impeachment. It shared this power with crown prosecutors and common law courts. The Founders rejected this model, narrowing the meaning of “impeachment” to crimes committed by government officials while in office. As for the parts of the Parliament’s impeachment power that affected ordinary citizens, the Founders centralized that power in the executive and judicial branches. They recognized this division of power when they provided in Article I Section 3 of the Constitution that, after a conviction and removal by impeachment, a president will be subject to “Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment” in common law courts. This history indicates that Congress has no power to conduct criminal investigations outside of impeachment.
Second, impeachment was a “high privilege” of the British House of Commons. It is also a high privilege of the House of Representatives. Indeed, under Article II Section 2 Clause 5, the House has the “sole right” to impeach. This privileged status compels the conclusion that committees with only general jurisdiction cannot decide for themselves when their own impeachment or prosecutorial jurisdiction begins. At a minimum, they need specific jurisdiction.
Third, the Founders went further. Having experienced unfair crown prosecutions as British subjects, they set forth constitutional protections for the accused in common law trials. It would be odd indeed for the Founders to have done so, but then to have given Congress, with its well-recognized political aspects, broad power to wade into criminal prosecutions outside of impeachment. Congressional investigations could very easily undermine the rights of the accused and the public to a fair trial.
Fourth, the committees’ actions do not measure up well against traditional notions of “oversight” jurisdiction. “Oversight” has traditionally meant the authority to investigate matters of general applicability, not the authority to investigate specific accusations of personal misconduct. Notably, the words House Democrats struck in the January 2019 rules amendments mentioned above—“with a view toward determining their economy and efficiency”—date back to the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. Those words clearly indicate a focus on the conduct of the government and its officials, not private misconduct. Thus, Gales & Seaton’s Register of Debates in Congress reports that in 1831, former President and then-Representative John Adams said, “This House had not and he hoped there never would be occasion for a standing committee of impeachment.”
Fifth, the plain language of the 2019 House amendments does not support the committees’ broad view of oversight. The term Democrats inserted, “the Executive Office of the President,” cannot reasonably be read as referring to actions by the president, or anyone else, in a personal capacity before being elected.
Finally, the House Judiciary committee opined in 1973 that an officer cannot be impeached for actions taken prior to assuming the office. An exception might exist in a case of a continuing violation that affects the presidency, but in these cases the committees did not utilize impeachment jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court has held that a decision by a tribunal lacking subject matter jurisdiction violates due process. A first-year law student knows that, constitutionally speaking, one cannot retroactively fix a subject matter jurisdiction defect.
Citing cases proclaiming Congress’ broad powers to investigate when there is a legislative purpose, the committees frame these cases as mere inquiries about possible future legislation. The claim does not past the smell test. But also, past cases involved impeachment or specific legislative authorizations, did not involve rights of an accused, or are otherwise distinguishable. The rest of the Constitution is not eclipsed by the fact that Congress can find a legislative purpose for its actions.
The committees also claim that the Oversight Committee’s oversight jurisdiction is coextensive with that of the entire House. If that is true, it swallows up the Constitution, and apart from invading individual rights, it would provide majority parties a surefire way to deprive minority members of their absolute privilege to vote and participate in determining House actions.
In short, in addition to the separation of powers, (1) a House failure to delegate authority, (2) the impeachment clause’s restrictions on House prosecution powers and (3) individual rights secured under the Constitution all are concrete jurisdictional barriers to these subpoenas. The court should find that broad assertions of “legislative purpose” simply cannot survive these constitutional collisions.