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Supreme Court drops arguments in House fight for Mueller documents from schedule

The case involves a lawsuit brought by the House Judiciary Committee that seeks to get documents related to Trump from Mueller’s special counsel team.
Image: Robert Mueller
Former special counsel Robert Mueller checks pages in the report as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, on July 24, 2019.Alex Brandon / AP file

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday dropped the planned oral argument in a House committee’s legal fight to get documents from the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation of President Donald Trump.

Granting a request from lawyers for the House of Representatives, the court removed the argument, originally scheduled for Dec. 2, from the calendar. The case involves a lawsuit brought by the House Judiciary Committee, seeking to get documents related to Trump compiled by Mueller’s special counsel team.

In a letter to the court, House lawyers said there may no longer be a need for the documents — which the committee originally sought for its impeachment inquiry — given Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.

“A new Congress will convene in the first week of January 2021, and President-elect Biden will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021. 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,” their letter said.

The Justice Department said it was willing to carry on with the argument as scheduled before the court removed the case from the December calendar.

When Mueller's work ended in March 2019, the Justice Department sent a version of his final report to Congress, but it redacted, or blacked out, references to information that was gathered by the Mueller grand jury. The House Judiciary Committee asked a federal judge for an order directing the Justice Department to hand over an unredacted copy of the report along with some of the documents and interviews referred to in the blacked out items.

The proceedings of a federal grand jury are secret, including its findings and any materials generated during its investigations. But there are some exceptions. Courts are allowed to authorize disclosure when they find the material would be used “preliminary to or in connection with a judicial proceeding.” Two lower courts ruled that the Judiciary Committee is covered by that exception, reasoning that a House impeachment is preliminary to a Senate trial, which is a judicial proceeding.

The Justice Department maintained the exceptions to grand jury secrecy rules don’t apply, saying “The ordinary meaning of ‘judicial proceeding’ is a proceeding before a court, not an impeachment trial before elected legislators.” But the House said it is covered by the exception, noting that the Constitution says the Senate has the sole power to “try” all impeachments, requires the chief justice to preside, and refers to a “judgment” in cases of impeachment.

For now, the Supreme Court case remains alive, but it will probably be dropped early next year.