Trump Administration Asks Supreme Court to Block the Release of Mueller Grand Jury Materials

May 7, 2020 Updated: May 7, 2020

The Trump administration on Thursday made a request to the Supreme Court to block the release of grand jury materials from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to the House of Representatives.

The Justice Department filed an application for a temporary stay of a lower court order that grants the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee access to grand jury information redacted from Mueller’s 448-page report, including transcripts or exhibits referenced in the redactions.

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 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.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in his brief to the top court that the administration will be filing an appeal of the circuit court’s decision and asks the justices to shield the documents from the House until after they’ve had time to consider the petition.

If the Supreme Court does not take any action, the Trump administration will have to turn over the grand jury material to the House on May 11.

Francisco argued (pdf) that this would “irrevocably lift their secrecy and possibly frustrate the government’s ability to seek further review.”

The administration also asked the Supreme Court for an administrative stay on the order while the court considers this application.

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 circuit court had accepted that the impeachment trial is a judicial proceeding, while Francisco argued in his brief that it is 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.”

He added that there is a reasonable probability the Supreme Court will grant a review of the lower court’s decision in the case because “the court of appeals’ interpretation defies the ordinary meaning of the term ‘judicial proceeding,’ creates tension with this Court’s precedents, and rewrites or sets aside other aspects of the Rule in an attempt to avoid substantial constitutional concerns.”

Francisco also argued that the circuit court’s decision in March was “particularly misguided” given that the material was sought for a House impeachment inquiry, which had already ended since the House had already impeached the president and the Senate had already acquitted him.

“Although the court correctly observed that ‘the Committee may recommend new articles of impeachment,’ it did not explain how respondent had met its burden to show a particularized need for the requested materials in connection with any potential second impeachment,” he wrote.

This case is one of many House Democrat court battles seeking material and information from the president and his administration.

The top court is scheduled to hear on May 12 oral arguments regarding several high-profile disputes over the release of the president’s financial records.

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan