WASHINGTON (CN) – The D.C. Circuit handed down a temporary stay Tuesday night on a judge’s ruling that backed the legality of the House impeachment inquiry and ordered the Justice Department to hand over secret Mueller grand jury materials to Democrats.
In the ongoing fight to wrestle the materials from the Justice Department, the House Judiciary Committee earlier Tuesday had urged U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell to ignore cries from the agency to push off the Oct. 30 deadline she set for disclosure of the Mueller grand jury records.
But the move by the D.C. Circuit now means judges in the appeals court and Howell will have more time to consider the Justice Department’s emergency motion to stay.
“The purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion for stay pending appeal and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion,” the order states.
In a battle over the Mueller records that is likely to reach the Supreme Court, the House has said that any delay will “enhance DOJ’s ability to run out the clock on the Committee’s impeachment inquiry altogether.”
In a 75-page opinion out Friday – with nearly 280 references to impeachment – Howell said the Justice Department and the White House are “openly stonewalling” House investigations into both Russia and Ukraine.
“The White House’s stated policy of non-cooperation with the impeachment inquiry weighs heavily in favor of disclosure,” Howell wrote. “Congress’s need to access grand jury material relevant to potential impeachable conduct by a President is heightened when the Executive Branch willfully obstructs channels for accessing other relevant evidence.”
But the Justice Department called on the judge to maintain the status quo.
“Once the information is disclosed, it cannot be recalled, and the confidentiality of the grand jury information will be lost for all time,” the motion to stay states.
The Justice Department argued House Democrats do not need the grand jury transcripts and evidence promptly because they are focused on investigating misconduct by Trump involving Ukraine.
The House dismissed the argument, saying the Justice Department wrongly narrowed the scope of the impeachment inquiry.
“Yet, even if the House’s inquiry were as narrow as DOJ claims – and it is not – DOJ’s objections would still fail: the Judiciary Committee has explained that the grand jury materials at issue may also be relevant to HPSCI’s investigation of the President’s solicitation of Ukrainian interference in the 2020 election,” the House stated in a memo Tuesday.
Howell wrote in her Friday opinion that access to the Mueller material will equip lawmakers to gather evidence that the special counsel did not pursue to determine if Trump committed an impeachable offense.