The House is asking the Supreme Court to postpone consideration of Democrats’ 18-month effort to obtain former special counsel Robert Mueller’s secret evidence, citing the imminent inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
In a filing with the high court on Tuesday, House counsel Doug Letter urged the court to postpone a Dec. 2 hearing on the matter. Biden’s ascension to the Oval Office, combined with a newly constituted Congress taking office next year will require the House Judiciary Committee to reconsider how to pursue its investigation, Letter said.
“The Committee’s investigations into misconduct by President Trump, oversight of agency activities during the Trump Administration, and consideration of related legislative reforms have remained ongoing,” he wrote. “But 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.”
The filing suggests the House is broadly reconsidering its posture toward Trump-era investigations in light of Biden’s election victory. The House is also in court attempting to obtain Trump’s financial records and tax returns and to force his former White House counsel Don McGahn — a star witness in Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation — to testify.
An aide to Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler told POLITICO recently that Nadler intends to pursue the McGahn deposition even after Trump leaves office as part of an effort to implement protections from political interference in the Justice Department.
But the Judiciary Committee’s effort to obtain Mueller’s grand jury information is one of the House’s longest continuing legal actions of the Trump era.
The panel filed a petition in July 2019 to obtain Mueller’s grand jury evidence, material that is typically closely held within the judiciary. But Nadler and his allies emphasized that Congress has often been granted exception to grand jury secrecy, particularly as it has considered bringing articles of impeachment against previous presidents, including Richard Nixon in the Watergate investigation and Bill Clinton during Ken Starr’s independent counsel probe.
At the heart of the issue is whether Congress’ impeachment power, which can result in a Senate trial, counts as a “judicial proceeding” akin to a courtroom process. The limited exceptions to grand jury secrecy include allowances for “judicial proceedings,” and lawmakers have long treated House impeachment inquiries and Senate trials as satisfying that exception.
But Attorney General William Barr rejected the characterization and said he saw no legal precedent for forking over reams of Mueller’s grand jury material to lawmakers, even in the context of impeachment.
The case has wound through the courts, with Democrats winning at both the district and appeals court levels before the Supreme Court agreed over the summer to take the case.
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