WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to temporarily block an order for the Trump administration to hand over to House Democrats records from the Mueller probe still hidden behind the grand jury veil of secrecy.
The stay order gives the Justice Department until June 1 to file a petition for the justices to take up whether the D.C. Circuit wrongly upheld the district court order to release the special grand jury materials from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The House argued Monday that the delay will inhibit its ability to complete an investigation into possible impeachable offenses by President Donald Trump — including obstruction of the Mueller investigation — before the current Congress ends next January.
“The public interest would be harmed irreparably if DOJ runs out the clock on the impeachment process,” House General Counsel Douglas Letter wrote.
Urging the Supreme Court to block the D.C. Circuit order, the Justice Department argued that the appeals court wrongly interpreted “judicial proceeding” to include a Senate impeachment trial.
“The ordinary meaning of ‘judicial proceeding’ is a proceeding before a court — not an impeachment trial before elected legislators. The court of appeals’ interpretation defies that ordinary meaning, and creates needless contradictions,” the Justice Department stated in its application for a stay.
The Trump administration has firmly argued the requested grand jury records should not be handed over to Democrats, a resistance that critics of the administration say is evidence the sought-after documents may reveal wrongdoings by the president.
The district court judge who first ordered the records release accused the White House of openly stonewalling the House investigation, in a ruling issued in the early stages of the impeachment probe.
The House Judiciary Committee has pledged to safeguard the documents, arguing even the Watergate road map handed over to Congress by the same Washington court decades ago is not readily available to the public.
The showdown over the Mueller records was long expected to land at the Supreme Court ever since the committee filed an application last July asking the district court to release the materials.
“The full Mueller report provides an essential roadmap for the committee’s efforts to uncover all facts relevant to Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential election and to any attempts by the president to prevent Congress from learning the truth about those attacks along with their aftermath,” the application stated.
Last year, the Justice Department went so far as to argue that the federal judge who in 1974 ordered the release of grand jury evidence to the congressional committee investigating President Richard Nixon was wrong to do so.
“The department is taking extraordinary positions in this case,” Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said in an October hearing, making no effort to hide the shock on her face.
Both lower courts that heard the case ruled the House met the required showing of a “particularized need” for the disclosure.
“Courts must take care not to second-guess the manner in which the House plans to proceed with its impeachment investigation or interfere with the House’s sole power of impeachment,” U.S. Circuit Judge Judith Rogers, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote in March for a divided three-judge panel.