U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Disclosure Of Material Gathered In Probe Of Russian Election Interference
By RFE/RL May 21, 2020
The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily prevented the release of secret grand jury testimony gathered during Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference that a House committee has sought for months.
The May 20 ruling keeps previously undisclosed details from the 22-month investigation that probed Russian interference in the 2016 election out of the hands of Democratic lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee for another few months.
The ruling puts a hold on a federal appeals court decision in March saying that the material must be disclosed to lawmakers because the committee's need for the material outweighed the Justice Department's interests in keeping the testimony secret.
The Supreme Court's order gave the administration until June 1 to formally appeal that ruling. If the justices decide to hear the case, a final resolution may not be reached until after the November 3 presidential election in which Donald Trump is seeking a second term. If the justices refuse to hear the appeal, the materials would have to be handed over.
The committee has argued that it needs the underlying grand jury material to make its own determinations about Trump's actions, including whether he obstructed justice as investigators looked into his campaign's involvement with Russians.
Mueller's report, issued in April 2019, stopped short of reaching conclusions about Trump's conduct, including whether he obstructed justice.
The report detailed multiple interactions between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia, but did not find sufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and the Kremlin to tip the election.
However, large portions of the report were blacked out, including the grand jury testimony and material that Mueller said could harm ongoing investigations or infringe on the privacy of third parties. Some Democrats have expressed concern that the redaction process was used to keep potentially damaging information about Trump secret.
The Justice Department argued that the Supreme Court should not allow the release of the grand jury testimony in part because the House Judiciary Committee hasn't given any indication it "urgently needs these materials for any ongoing impeachment investigation."
The committee opposed the delay on the grounds that its investigation of Trump was continuing, and that time is critical because of the approaching November election.
The investigation "continues today and has further developed in light of recent events," the House members told the justices. The Democrats cited the "possible exercise of improper political influence" on decisions to seek a shorter prison term for Trump confidant Roger Stone and end the prosecution of former national-security adviser Michael Flynn despite his two guilty pleas.
The materials initially were sought by House Democrats last year, but by the time the appeals court ruled in March, Trump had been impeached by the Democrat-controlled House on different charges and acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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