Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have asked the Supreme Court to order the release of secret grand jury materials from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, in what the lawmakers said is their continuing impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump.
“The committee’s impeachment investigation related to obstruction of justice pertaining to the Russia investigation is ongoing,” Douglas Letter, the House general counsel, said in a court filing (pdf). What is being sought is “disclosure to the House Committee on the Judiciary of a limited set of grand jury materials for use in the committee’s ongoing presidential impeachment investigation,” he notes in the document.
The grand jury materials, essentially documents that prosecutors collected from witnesses about Trump, have been the subject of a legal fight between the Democrat-led committee and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The litigation saga began after the DOJ denied a congressional request for an unredacted version of the Mueller report, with the Supreme Court being the Trump administration’s last recourse.
In 2019, Mueller determined there was no criminal conspiracy, often referred to as “collusion,” between the Trump campaign and Russia to swing the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
Mueller released two volumes of his report—one on collusion, the second on obstruction of justice. While he didn’t recommend prosecution in the matter of obstruction, Democrats have focused on this issue as potentially worthy of pursuing for another impeachment against Trump, and for their investigation, they’ve demanded Mueller’s grand jury materials. DOJ lawyers have sought to have the release of these materials put on hold until the case is finally resolved.
A federal appeals court ruled in March that the DOJ must release the secret grand jury evidence to congressional Democrats, but the Justice Department appealed, asking the Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision—and then rule to reverse it. At the time, the DOJ urged the appeals court to stay out of what it characterized as a political dispute between Congress and the Trump administration, arguing that exemptions allowing a breach of grand jury secrecy in ordinary legal cases don’t apply to impeachment proceedings.
DOJ Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued in an application for a stay (pdf) that the federal appeals court wasn’t only not justified in authorizing a breach of grand jury secrecy because “the court of appeals’ interpretation defies the ordinary meaning of the term ‘judicial proceeding,'” it also unfairly weighed against the interests of the administration.
“Absent a stay, the government would suffer irreparable harm—for it would have to turn over the grand jury records, thereby frustrating further judicial review of the merits of this dispute,” Francisco wrote.
He added that the Democrat-led House committee “has not identified any urgent requirement for the requested materials in connection with an imminent Senate impeachment trial, and so would suffer no prejudice from a stay,” essentially arguing that the administration would be disadvantaged in the legal dispute by having to release the secret documents before the Supreme Court could review whether their disclosure is justified.
In the May 18 court filing, lawyers for the Judiciary Committee asked for the Supreme Court to refuse to even hear the DOJ case, which would make the appellate court’s decision to release the documents binding.
“The Department of Justice does not meet the standard for a stay of the mandate pending disposition of its petition for a writ of certiorari, and its application for a stay should therefore be denied,” Letter wrote in the filing.
“At bottom, DOJ has failed to demonstrate that this court’s review would be warranted here.”
Letter argued that if the Supreme Court agrees to the DOJ’s request for a stay, it would delay the ongoing House investigation beyond the current congressional term of office.
“This substantial delay will seriously endanger the committee’s ability to complete its impeachment investigation during the current Congress—which ends not long thereafter on Jan. 3, 2021,” Letter wrote.
“[The Judiciary] Committee and the public continue to suffer grave and irreparable injury each additional day the district court’s order is prevented from going into effect: the committee is being deprived of the information it needs to exercise its weighty constitutional responsibility,” Letter noted.
In the brief, Letter also cited the committee’s earlier arguments that the Mueller Report grand jury material is important to see the light of day, noting that “if this material reveals new evidence supporting the conclusion that President Trump committed impeachable offenses that are not covered by the Articles adopted by the House, the committee will proceed accordingly—including, if necessary, by considering whether to recommend new articles of impeachment.”
Earlier this month, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts approved a DOJ request for a brief stay on the release of Mueller’s grand jury materials.