WASHINGTON — Impeachment investigators are exploring whether President Donald Trump lied in his written answers to Robert Mueller during the Russia investigation, a lawyer for the House told a federal appeals court Monday, raising the prospect of bringing an additional basis for a Senate trial over whether to remove Trump.
The statement — during a hearing in a case over the House’s request for secret grand-jury evidence gathered by Mueller — came shortly after Trump said on Twitter that he may provide written answers about the Ukraine affair to impeachment investigators.
“Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!” Trump wrote, after insulting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
During the Mueller investigation, Trump refused to testify orally about what he knew and did during the 2016 campaign in relation to Russia’s election interference operation, or his later efforts to impede the special counsel’s inquiry. But he did provide lawyerly written answers to some questions, which were appended to the Mueller report.
On Monday, Douglas Letter, the general counsel for the House, told a federal appeals court panel that impeachment investigators have an “immense” need to see the grand jury evidence — redacted portions of the Mueller report, as well as the underlying testimony transcripts they came from — because Trump may have lied.
“Was the president not truthful in his responses to the Mueller investigation?” Letter said, adding: “I believe the special counsel said the president had been untruthful in some of his answers.”
He was referring to Mueller’s congressional testimony in July. Near the end of the hearing, a lawmaker brought up Trump’s written responses and asked whether “his answers showed that he wasn’t always being truthful.” Rather than demurring as he had to similar questions, Mueller instead appeared to confirm her assessment, responding, “I would say generally.”
Both the lawmaker in July and Letter on Monday appeared to be referring in particular to the question of whether Trump lied about his campaign’s advance knowledge of and contacts with WikiLeaks about its possession of hacked Democratic emails and plans to publish them.
Trump wrote that he was “not aware during the campaign of any communications” between “any one I understood to be a representative of WikiLeaks” and people associated with his campaign, including his political adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted at trial last week for lying to congressional investigators about his efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks and his discussions with the campaign.
“I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him,” Trump also wrote of Stone, “nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign.”
But the publicly available portions of the Mueller report suggest that evidence exists to the contrary. Several Trump aides, including Michael Cohen and Rick Gates, testified that they heard Trump discussing coming WikiLeaks releases over the phone. And in October 2016, Steve Bannon, the campaign chairman, wrote in an email that Stone had told the campaign “about potential future releases of damaging material” by WikiLeaks shortly before it began publishing more hacked emails.
Letter brought up redactions in the report associated with Stone and a redacted reference to something that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, had said to a grand jury.
“Manafort said that shortly after WikiLeaks’ July 22, 2016, released of hacked documents, he spoke to Trump (redacted); Manafort recalled that Trump responded that Manafort should (redacted) keep Trump updated,” the Mueller report said, citing grand-jury material as the reason for the redactions.
Letter told the court, “The Manafort situation shows so clearly that there is evidence, very sadly, that the president might have provided untruthful answers,” he said, adding that this might be part of impeachment.
Attorney General William Barr permitted the House Judiciary Committee to see most of the Mueller report, including portions that are redacted from the public version because they pertained to ongoing cases, but has refused to let them see material that is subject to secrecy rules because it was presented to a grand jury.
In July, the House petitioned the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for an order that would permit it to gain access to that material, too. Its court filings in that matter were the first time that it formally pronounced itself engaged in an impeachment inquiry. There is precedent, including in the Nixon Watergate scandal, permitting the House to get grand jury information for impeachment proceedings.
The judge in October ruled that the House Judiciary Committee should be permitted to see the grand-jury material in the report and its underlying basis. The Justice Department appealed that ruling. The hearing Monday centered on whether the appeals court should temporarily stay the district judge’s ruling while it considers that appeal.