The Supreme Court on Wednesday has agreed to temporarily shield grand jury documents from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation from being disclosed to Congress.
The top court granted the Trump administration’s emergency request for a temporary stay of a lower court’s order that gives the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee access to grand jury information redacted from Mueller’s 448-page report, including transcripts or exhibits referenced in the redactions. The temporary stay is granted pending the filing and consideration of an appeal (pdf).
The court has given the Trump administration until 5 p.m. June 1 to file the appeal. It did not give reasons for its decision.
Chief Justice John Roberts had previously granted an administrative stay to temporarily block the lower court’s order from going into effect while the Supreme Court considers the Trump administration’s emergency request.
In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled 2-1 to uphold a district court’s decision ordering the Justice Department (DOJ) to turn over grand jury material referenced in or underlying Mueller’s report. The House was seeking the documents as part of its ongoing investigations into President Donald Trump in an attempt to find impeachable offenses against him.
Although the Senate acquitted Trump in his impeachment trial in February, House lawyers had previously said that the lawmakers will continue their impeachment probe against the president regardless of the outcome in the Senate.
While arguing for the temporary stay, Solicitor General Noel Francisco said that letting the lower court’s order take effect, which was scheduled for May 11, would “irrevocably lift their secrecy and possibly frustrate the government’s ability to seek further review.”
The main question in the present case is whether an impeachment trial is a judicial proceeding. Grand jury materials are usually guarded with great secrecy and are only disclosed under exceptional circumstances. One of the exceptions that allow for disclosure is when the documents are being sought in connection to a judicial proceeding.
The lower courts had accepted that the impeachment trial qualifies under the exception, while Francisco argued in his brief that it does not.
“The ordinary meaning of ‘judicial proceeding’ is a proceeding before a court—not an impeachment trial before elected legislators,” he wrote. “The court of appeals’ interpretation defies that ordinary meaning, and creates needless contradictions with the other instances of ‘judicial proceeding’ in Rule 6(e)(3) itself.”
The House Judiciary Committee filed a response to the application on Monday, arguing that the administration does not meet the standard for a stay and that the DOJ had failed to demonstrate why the court’s review should be warranted.
House lawyers told the court that the committee had put in place procedures to protect the confidentiality of the grand jury materials. They added that the information was needed to “complete its impeachment investigation” of the president for alleged misconduct detailed in the Mueller report.
“The Mueller Report grand-jury material remains ‘central to the Committee’s ongoing inquiry into the President’s conduct. 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,'” the House lawyers wrote (pdf).
Mueller was appointed in 2017 to investigate allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election. The special counsel’s report concluded that there was no evidence for such collusion.
Mueller also declined to come to a conclusion regarding whether Trump had obstructed justice during the investigation. Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had also concluded that Mueller’s report didn’t present sufficient evidence to establish that Trump had committed any obstruction of justice.
This case is one of many House Democrat court battles seeking material and information from the president and his administration.
On May 12, the court heard oral arguments regarding several high-profile disputes over the release of the president’s financial records. The rulings of those cases are expected in the summer.