A federal circuit court on Tuesday evening temporarily blocked the release of grand jury materials from former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
A three-judge panel, all Obama appointees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, suspended a lower court’s Wednesday deadline in order to have extra time to consider the merits of a recent Department of Justice (DOJ) request.
The DOJ on Monday asked judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to hold off on enforcing her pivotal ruling last week that ordered the agency to provide the documents to the House Judiciary Committee by Wednesday.
The department's broader request to Howell is that she suspend her order indefinitely while the Trump administration formally asks the appeals court to reconsider whether it must disclose the grand jury materials to Congress at all.
The appeals court in its ruling Tuesday said the purpose of its stay was to provide “sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion” by the DOJ.
The judges noted that their temporary suspension of the lower court’s deadline “should not be construed” as a ruling on the merits of the agency’s request.
The appellate court order means the Mueller grand jury materials will continue to be shielded from House Democrats’ view for the time being.
Howell, an Obama appointee who serves as the chief justice of the U.S. District Court in D.C., issued a separate order Tuesday evening reiterating her view that the DOJ’s request for a stay is legally flawed.
“Both the (House Judiciary Committee) itself and the public, therefore, have an interest in the HJC gaining immediate access to this grand jury material,” Howell wrote.
The Democratic impeachment inquiry may key in on themes that Mueller explored in his nearly two-year investigation, including President TrumpDonald TrumpNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Kemp leading Perdue in Georgia gubernatorial primary: poll US ranked 27th least corrupt country in the world MORE’s possible obstruction of justice and his campaign’s interactions with Russia during the 2016 election. If so, the fight over access to Mueller’s grand jury materials, as well as related exhibits and transcripts, could help shape the course of the inquiry.
The former special counsel’s 448-page report contains redacted passages detailing information gleaned during grand jury proceedings. In keeping with common practice, these sections were obscured from public view to protect jurors, witnesses and other parties, but redactions may be lifted upon a judicial order.
Howell sided with Democratic lawmakers in a key ruling last week, rejecting the DOJ’s arguments that the information must remain secret.
“The Department of Justice claims that existing law bars disclosure to the Congress of grand jury information,” Howell wrote in her Friday opinion. “DOJ is wrong.”
The DOJ on Monday announced plans to appeal the order.
Updated: 10:20 p.m.