Most of the redactions related to the grand jury pertain to the portion of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that focused on alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. | Alex Wong/Getty Images
The Supreme Court has all but doomed House Democrats’ efforts to obtain former special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury evidence before the November elections.
The justices agreed Thursday to consider whether the House should be given permission to access the grand jury secrets contained in Mueller’s final report, as well as its underlying evidence. That decision, despite two lower court rulings supporting access to the secret information, ensures that no final decision will be rendered before voters decide whether to grant Trump a second term.
The decision was a frustrating inflection point for Democrats after a year-long effort by the House to obtain the still-secret Mueller evidence about contacts between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russians who were working to influence the outcome of the election.
Some noted with irony that amid the House’s effort to impeach Trump for obstructing Congress, many of the president’s allies argued they should have pursued court battles for evidence first — yet Thursday’s decision underscored that the legal process operates at a glacial pace compared to the election cycle.
« [T]his delay is why impeachment could not ‘wait for the courts’ as GOP said, » argued Norm Eisen, a former House Judiciary Committee counsel who helped organize the House’s impeachment strategy.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) predicted that the House would win at the Supreme Court, but expressed disappointment that evidence potentially relevant to voters would be kept secret until after the election.
« While I am confident their legal arguments will fail, it is now all the more important for the American people to hold the President accountable at the ballot box in November, » Nadler said in a statement.
The justices’ decision to hear the case was included in a routine list of high court orders made public Thursday morning. The Trump administration asked the justices to rule on the issue after a federal appeals court in Washington issued a ruling in March upholding a lower court order granting the House request to review grand jury information deleted from the public version of Mueller’s report, as well as the underlying testimony.
The high court’s decision to take the case was widely expected after the justices stepped in two months ago, agreeing to the Justice Department’s request to put the D.C. Circuit ruling on hold. The justices will likely hear arguments in the case sometime this fall and rule sometime in 2021. The dispute might even evaporate if Democrats win the White House and the Justice Department agrees to release the details sought by lawmakers.
Last July, the House Judiciary Committee asked a judge for access to information the Justice Department withheld when it made most of Mueller’s report public. Lawyers for the House said the committee needed the uncut report as part of its impeachment investigation of Trump, but that process eventually went forward without the House seeing the details it sought.
House Democrats also argued that they needed to see the hundreds of deletions and supporting testimony to compare statements witnesses made in the Mueller investigation with statements some of those same witnesses made to the House.
Most of the redactions related to the grand jury pertain to the portion of Mueller’s investigation that focused on alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mueller’s inquiry into alleged obstruction of justice by Trump was conducted almost entirely through voluntary interviews, rather than grand jury testimony or subpoenas.
The chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington, Beryl Howell, granted the committee’s access request in October, but the Justice Department appealed the decision. In March, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit divided, 2-1, as it upheld Howell’s ruling.
The appeals court panel ruled that the House’s request for the information as part of the impeachment process was sufficient to qualify under an exception in court rules that permits disclosure of grand jury information as part of a judicial proceeding. Although Trump was acquitted by the Senate earlier this year, the judges accepted a House argument that the theoretical possibility of another impeachment was enough to qualify.
The House impeached Trump on a charge of obstructing Congress’ investigation into allegations that he abused his power to pressure Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rivals. Senate Republicans all united to acquit Trump of the charge, with many indicating the House should have done more to pursue documents and testimony in court, echoing arguments from Trump’s legal team. One GOP senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, voted to convict Trump on a separate charge of abuse of power.
Yet the White House and Justice Department have also argued in ongoing court battles that judges have no role in deciding disputes between Congress and the executive branch, a conflicting position that Democrats said was further evidence of efforts to merely protect the president from scrutiny.
Democrats argued that they pressed ahead with impeachment urgently because the charges suggested Trump was actively working to solicit foreign help in the 2020 election, and waiting for a court process would all but ensure the election would pass before any final decisions.
News – Supreme Court to rule on House access to Mueller grand jury secrets