Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have asked the Supreme Court to order the release of onetime special counsel Robert Muellers secret grand jury materials in what they said is their ongoing impeachment investigation against President Donald Trump.
“The committees impeachment investigation related to obstruction of justice pertaining to the Russia investigation is ongoing,” said Douglas Letter, the House general counsel, in a court filing (pdf). He notes in the document that 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 committees ongoing presidential impeachment investigation.”
The secret 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 administrations 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 Trumps favor.
Mueller released two volumes of his report—one on collusion, the second on obstruction of justice. While he did not recommend prosecution in the matter of obstruction, Democrats have focused on this issue as potentially worthy of pursuing another impeachment against Trump, and for their investigation have demanded Muellers grand jury materials. Justice Department 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 courts 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 do not apply to impeachment proceedings.
DOJ Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued in an application for a stay (pdf) that the federal appeals court was not 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.
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