U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts
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Chief Justice John Roberts on Friday paused a lower court order that would have required the Trump administration to turn over to Congress secretive materials produced in connection with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The order is procedural and was not opposed by the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee, which is expected to ask the Supreme Court to ultimately require the Department of Justice to hand over the documents.
Roberts’ action comes one day after the Trump administration asked the top court to temporarily halt a March ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordering the Justice Department to hand over Mueller’s grand jury materials.
Absent Roberts’ order, Solicitor General Noel Francisco said the Justice Department would have had to turn over the records on Monday.
Grand jury materials, which are generally protected from disclosure, can be ordered released by a court in connection with judicial proceedings. House Democrats successfully argued before a panel of the D.C. federal appeals court that an impeachment trial qualifies as judicial proceeding.
While Trump was acquitted in his Senate impeachment trial in February, Democrats have said they could draw up new articles if the Mueller documents reveal new evidence.
Francisco wrote in his Thursday filing with the justices that upholding the D.C. court’s reasoning “would raise serious separation-of-powers concerns because it would mean that federal courts could impose conditions on Congress’s use of grand-jury materials in impeachment trials.”
The Supreme Court is expected to issue a more substantive ruling in the matter after Democrats get a chance to respond to the administration’s filing. Roberts set a deadline of May 18 for that response.