The US supreme court temporarily prevented the House of Representatives from obtaining secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
The court granted the Trump administration’s request to keep previously undisclosed details from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election out of the hands of Democratic lawmakers, at least until early summer.
The court will decide then whether to extend its hold and schedule the case for arguments in the fall. If it does, it’s likely the administration will be able to put off the release of any materials until after election day on 3 November. Arguments themselves might not even take place before Americans decide whether to give Donald Trump a second term.
For the justices eager to avoid a definitive ruling, the delay could mean never having to decide the case, if either Trump loses or Republicans regain control of the House next year. If Democratic candidate Joe Biden were to win the election against Trump, it’s hard to imagine his administration would object to turning over the Mueller documents, or if Republicans won the House, it would be equally hard to see them continue to press for them.
The federal appeals court in Washington ruled in March that the documents should be turned over because the House judiciary committee’s need for the material in its investigation of Trump outweighed the justice department’s interests in keeping the testimony secret.
Solicitor general Noel Francisco filed a request with the supreme court earlier this month to temporarily block the federal appeals court’s order, arguing it would cause “irreparable harm” to the federal government if House Democrats were allowed to review the grand jury material.
“Once the government discloses the secret grand-jury records, their secrecy will irrevocably be lost,” Francisco wrote. “That is particularly so when, as here, they are disclosed to a congressional committee and its staff.”
According to MSN.com, Mueller’s 448-page report, issued in April 2019, “stopped short” of reaching conclusions about Trump’s conduct, including whether he obstructed justice, to avoid stepping on the House’s impeachment power, the appeals court said.
The committee was able to persuasively argue that it needed access to the underlying grand jury material to make its own determinations about the president’s actions, the court said.
The justice department said in its supreme court filings that the court’s action was needed in part because the House hasn’t given any indication it “urgently needs these materials for any ongoing impeachment investigation”.
The House opposed the delay on the grounds that its investigation of Trump was continuing, and that time is of the essence because of the approaching election. The current session of the House will end 3 January, and lawmakers elected in November will take their seats.
The supreme court heard arguments last week over whether Trump’s accountants and banks must turn over financial records to House committees. The administration is not a party to the case, but is backing the president.
The appeals court also is weighing whether former White House counsel Don McGahn must appear before the committee to answer questions related to the Mueller investigation. And the justice department has said it will ask the supreme court to step in and kill a lawsuit alleging that Trump is illegally profiting off the presidency through his luxury Washington hotel.