Jerrold Nadler. Picture: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS
Jerrold Nadler. Picture: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS

Washington — The US supreme court all but guaranteed House Democrats won’t get pre-election access to confidential materials from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, agreeing to hear a Trump administration appeal likely to extend a legal fight into next year.

The justices said they will review a lower court order that would require the justice department to turn over redacted parts of Mueller’s 448-page report, along with underlying grand jury transcripts and exhibits. The supreme court will consider the case in the nine-month term that starts in October.

The House judiciary committee sought the records as part of its impeachment inquiry last year. President Donald Trump was impeached on different grounds by the Democrat-controlled House before being acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Democrats say the materials would help them determine whether Trump committed impeachable offences by obstructing the FBI’s and Mueller’s investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller found 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice but stopped short of determining whether Trump had engaged in obstruction.

Trump and attorney-general William Barr “are continuing to try to run out the clock on any and all accountability”, House fudiciary chair Jerrold Nadler of New York said in an e-mailed 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.”

Justice department spokespeople didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

The administration argues that a federal trial judge lacked the power to unseal the information. Grand jury materials are normally sealed, but federal rules let a judge authorise disclosure for “judicial proceedings”. The key legal question is whether that includes House impeachment inquiries.

A federal appeals court ruled that impeachment proceedings qualified, saying courts had let lawmakers see grand jury materials during the impeachment inquiries of presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

In May, the supreme court stopped the appeals court decision from taking effect until the justices decided how to handle the case. The new order extends that hold until the high court rules.

Had the supreme court rejected the appeal, as the judiciary committee urged, the materials could have become public before the November election. The judiciary committee can release any information it receives with a majority vote.


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