Grand jury material from former special counsel Robert Mueller won’t be released to the Democratic-led House of Representatives at least for now, after the Supreme Court on Thursday granted the Trump administration’s request to take up the case next term.
The move means the documents won’t likely be released before the November election, even if the Democrats win the case.
The court’s move is a victory for the Justice Department, which is seeking to prevent the release of the information, which includes portions of Mueller’s report that were redacted to protect grand jury information and underlying grand jury testimony and exhibits that relate to certain individuals and events.
The case is a major separation of powers fight, testing the ability of the Justice Department to control grand jury information from a historic, deeply political investigation it conducted that could also aid congressional investigations.
The grand jury materials in question could shed considerable light on Russian election-meddling and Trump’s response in 2016. Dozens of witnesses testified before Mueller’s grand jury, according to CNN reporting, including Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and at least two people who attended the Trump Tower meeting in summer 2016.
House Democrats told the justices that any delay would threaten the committee’s ability to complete its investigation during the current Congress.
The timeline could effectively kill the effort to get the documents, said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“Even if the court hears arguments in November, it’s unlikely it would render a decision before January 3, 202 – when this Congress ends and this case along with it,” Vladeck said.
A federal appeals court in March sided with the House Judiciary Committee, saying that lawmakers had a “compelling need” to view the secretive details.
Douglas Letter, general counsel for the House, said the materials were necessary as the house continues to probe impeachment, even though it seems extremely unlikely the House would impeach Trump for a second time.
But Solicitor General Noel Francisco told the justices that while there are some exceptions to the law that allow grand jury materials to be released pursuant to a “judicial proceeding,” potential impeachment proceedings do not qualify.
He urged the justices to take up the case “In light of the national prominence of this grand jury investigation, the separation of powers concerns raised by the decision below, and the potential damage that decision could inflict on the proper functioning of our grand jury system.”
This story has been updated with additional details of the case.