Supreme Court will hear Democrats’ bid to get full Mueller report

The move means the information likely won’t be released ahead of the November election

Former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III testifies during the House Judiciary Committee last July. The committee's bid to get grand jury materials from his 2016 elections investigation will be decided by the Supreme Court.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III testifies during the House Judiciary Committee last July. The committee's bid to get grand jury materials from his 2016 elections investigation will be decided by the Supreme Court. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:23am

The Supreme Court will decide whether the House Judiciary Committee can get the normally secret grand jury materials from the special counsel Russia probe — all but assuring that the information won’t be released ahead of this year’s election in November.

The justices announced Thursday that they had agreed to hear the Justice Department’s appeal in a one-line statement, with no noted dissent and no reasons for the move.

[Supreme Court could reshape congressional subpoena power in Trump case]

The Supreme Court in May temporarily blocked a lower court order for the Justice Department to turn over to the committee the materials from former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

That 22-month investigation also looked at whether President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice by trying to interfere with the investigation.

The case will be heard in the court's next term, which starts in October. It is the second Supreme Court showdown arising from a fight for information from the Democratic-led House and efforts to block the release from Trump or his administration.

The Supreme Court is poised to release an opinion as soon as Monday in a separate case about whether congressional committees can obtain Trump’s personal and business financial records from an auditing firm and two banks.

In a third case, a lower court is still deciding whether former White House Counsel Don McGahn must testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the Mueller report.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a news release that he was "disappointed by the Court’s decision to prolong this case further," and that the Justice Department's "newly invented arguments against disclosure have failed at every level."

“Unfortunately, President Trump and Attorney General Barr are continuing to try to run out the clock on any and all accountability," the New York Democrat said. "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.”

The Supreme Court, in the Mueller grand jury materials case, could determine whether the House can obtain the full range of special counsel information as part of an impeachment investigation. The House impeached Trump late last year, and the Republican-led Senate acquitted him in February after an impeachment trial that lasted several weeks.

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

The Justice Department is contesting a March 10 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that the House’s impeachment of Trump counted as a “judicial proceeding,” which qualifies the Judiciary Committee for an exemption to rules that typically keep grand jury information secret.

The three-judge D.C. Circuit panel found that the committee showed a need for specific parts of the grand jury materials, and pointed to a part of Mueller’s report that described how a criminal accusation against Trump could “potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct.”

That phrase refers to the House’s sole power of impeachment, and the appeals court found that Mueller had prepared his report “with the expectation that Congress would review it.”

The Justice Department — the custodian of the grand jury records that opposed the committee’s application — plans to argue that lower court interpretation of judicial proceeding “would create serious separation-of-powers concerns” with ordinary application of other provisions to impeachment proceedings.

The case is Department of Justice v. House Committee on the Judiciary, Docket No. 19-1328.

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