Supreme Court halts disclosure of Mueller grand jury materials to House

The Justice Department must file an appeal by June 1

Former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III testifies during the House Intelligence Committee hearing on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election on July 24, 2019.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III testifies during the House Intelligence Committee hearing on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election on July 24, 2019. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted May 20, 2020 at 5:21pm

The Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily blocked the House Judiciary Committee from getting the normally secret grand jury materials from Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In an order Wednesday with no noted dissents and no reasons for the move, the Supreme Court granted the Justice Department’s request to put a hold on a lower court ruling to give the committee the materials from the former special counsel. The justices gave the Justice Department until June 1 to file an appeal.

Without such an intervention, the Justice Department argued it would have had to turn over the information before the Supreme Court had a chance to review its appeal — and that would erase the secrecy of those documents.

The House Judiciary Committee had encouraged the Supreme Court to require the Justice Department to turn over the documents right away, arguing that the committee could protect the confidentiality of the grand jury materials in the meantime.

The Justice Department will appeal a March 10 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that the House’s impeachment of President Donald Trump counted as a “judicial proceeding,” which qualifies the committee for an exemption to rules that typically keep grand jury information secret.

And the Justice Department plans to argue that the lower court interpretation of judicial proceeding “would create serious separation-of-powers concerns” with ordinary application of other provisions to impeachment proceedings.

How long the lower court order is paused depends on what the justices do next. If they decline to hear the appeal, the Justice Department would then have to turn over the materials.

The committee also asked the justices, if they were going to pause the lower court order, to set a June 1 deadline for the appeal so that the justices could quickly decide whether to hear the case.

But if the Supreme Court instead agrees to review the lower court order — an action that takes the votes of four justices — then the order would remain paused while that happens.

Because of the court’s typical schedule, such a high court review would likely stretch beyond the November presidential election. The House first requested the grand jury material from the Justice Department more than a year ago.