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Supreme Court Puts House Investigation on Hold, Won't Hear Mueller Evidence Until Next Term

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Supreme Court Puts House Investigation on Hold, Won't Hear Mueller Evidence Until Next Term

2020-07-03 16:10:56

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Jerry Nadler (Image source: Screenshot)

While the Supreme Court has made a few controversial decisions lately, as they were decided in the Democrats' favor, despite being in the minority on the high court, it sided the way of the conservatives on Thursday. It decided that it won't hear arguments of whether the House Judiciary Committee can see the unredacted report of former special counsel Robert Mueller until the next term, regardless of who the president is at that time.

Mueller's team spent two years investigating the Russian interference in the 2016 election, that looked into whether there was cooperation between the Russians and Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and whether the president tried to obstruct the investigation. His final report did not decide either way, but he left the information there for whoever reads the report and stated if there were strong evidence showing that Trump didn't commit a crime, his report would have said so.

Attorney General William Barr went through the report first, heavily redacted it, then released it publicly and to Congress. There has been much discussion and legal moves regarding the release of the unredacted information and who should be able to see it.

The higher court made the decision not to hear the case brought by the House Judiciary Committee regarding the release of the unredacted report until at least after the November election. This was after a lower court ruled that the committee was entitled to see the material. Even if the case is heard in the Supreme Court in November, it's unlikely a decision would come before the end of the current congressional term in January.

House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said he's disappointed in the court's decision and said Barr had reversed longstanding Justice Department practice in not releasing the entire report.

"Unfortunately, President Trump and Attorney General Barr are continuing to try to run out the clock on any and all accountability," said Nadler in a statement. "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."

Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued to the Supreme Court that it should decide for itself the "significant separation of powers" issues that have been raised in the case. He wrote in his brief that regardless of the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Congress does not have a need for that information."

"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," wrote Francisco.

The House impeached Trump in December for holding up aid for Ukraine in return for an agreement for the Ukrainian president to conduct investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter, and the  2016 election interference. The Senate acquitted the president in early February.

House General Counsel Douglas N. Letter told the court that the material Barr withheld "remains central to the committee's ongoing investigation into the president's conduct." He added that the committee's investigation "did not cease with the conclusion of the impeachment trial."

Before Trump's troubling phone call in July that set up the impeachment probe when he asked Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky to conduction the investigations, the House went to court to ask to see the information that had been withheld from the Mueller report.

The sections of the report that the House committee want access to is separate from the materials that the DOJ recently released of Trump associate Roger Stone's trial.

The D.C. Circuit had issued a 2-to-1 opinion that said the House was legally engaged in a judicial process that exempts Congress from the secrecy rules that typically keep grand jury material under wraps. It explained that grand jury records are court records and not DOJ records. They have historically been released to Congress during impeachment investigations involving three federal judges and two presidents.

Judge Judith Rogers was joined by Judge Thomas B. Griffith in writing that the House committee's "need for the grand jury materials remains unchanged. The committee has repeatedly stated that if the grand jury materials reveal new evidence of impeachable offenses, the committee may recommend new articles of impeachment."

She added that the "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."

The dissenting opinion was from Judge Neomi Rao, who said the committee lacks the legal grounds to ask the court to enforce a subpoena for the grand jury materials. She would have returned the case to district court to determine whether the Judiciary Committee can still show that its "inquiry is preliminary to an impeachment proceeding and that it has a 'particularized need' for disclosure." 

Francisco argued that the House's inquiry was not a judicial proceeding that would require a grand jury exception. "Treating a Senate impeachment trial — a proceeding before elected legislators — as a 'judicial proceeding' departs from that ordinary meaning," he said.

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