Supreme Court postpones hearing on congressional effort to obtain secret Mueller material

“A new Congress will convene in the first week of January 2021, and President-elect [Joe] Biden will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021,” House General Counsel Douglas N. Letter wrote. “Once those events occur, the newly constituted committee will have to determine whether it wishes to continue pursuing the application for the grand-jury materials that gave rise to this case.”

“The government . . . will proceed however the court chooses in light of the committee’s motion,” he wrote.

The Justice Department asked the court to review a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that said the congressional committee was entitled to see the documents.

The secret sections of the special counsel’s report that the House wants to access are separate from the material the Justice Department released detailing some of the evidence aired at the trial of Roger Stone, an associate of President Trump. Stone was convicted of lying to Congress.

In its 2-to-1 opinion, the D.C. Circuit said the House was legally engaged in the kind of judicial process that exempts Congress from secrecy rules typically shielding grand jury materials.

It said grand jury records are court records — not Justice Department records — and have historically been released to Congress in the course of impeachment investigations involving three federal judges and two presidents.

The Supreme Court’s decision in July to review the lower court’s opinion, rather than allow it to be implemented, prevented the committee from receiving the information this summer.

At the time, the government told the justices they should decide for themselves the “significant separation of powers” issues raised in the case. It said the committee’s work was probably done, at any rate.

“The House already has impeached the president, the Senate already has acquitted him, and neither [the committee] nor the House has provided any indication that a second impeachment is imminent,” its brief said.

The committee first sought the information in July 2019. Trump’s impeachment by the House came in December, followed by the Senate’s acquittal in February.

House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry concerned the president’s alleged effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden’s actions while he was vice president.

Mueller’s team found insufficient evidence to conclude that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia and neither exonerated nor accused Trump of obstructing justice — writing in its report, “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”

The Justice Department released a redacted version of Mueller’s report and said it would provide congressional leaders with the full report minus the grand jury materials. It said the attorney general lacked discretion to release that information.

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