The Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in a case deciding whether Congress will get access to evidence gathered during the Mueller investigation, the court said on Thursday.
The move comes after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found in March that the House Judiciary Committee could see evidence gathered by a grand jury empaneled by the special counsel.
The Justice Department has been withholding the full, underlying evidence from the investigation since the publication of the Mueller report in April 2019.
The Supreme Court had earlier issued a stay of the appeals court’s order, pending its decision on taking up the case.
The Justice Department’s decision to withhold access to the materials breaks with precedent set by earlier special counsel investigations. During Watergate, the House Judiciary Committee was granted full access to information collected by the grand jury in that probe.
By a similar token, the GOP-controlled House Judiciary Committee received 36 boxes of grand jury materials from Ken Starr’s investigation.
Had the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, it would have preserved the appellate order granting Congress access to the evidence.
The decision comes as a setback to House Democrats who had sought access to the materials before the expiration of their congressional term at the end of the year. Arguments in the case will likely prolong its decision until 2021.
The initial value of the evidence, the House argued, was in part that it would help Congress to conduct an impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s actions obstructing the Mueller probe. The delay all but ensures that the case will not be resolved until after this year’s presidential election.
Should Republicans regain control of the House in the November elections, or should President Trump be defeated, the entire reason for the case could end up being mooted.
The case comes amid other unprecedented moves by the Trump administration to deny any basis for congressional oversight when it comes to scrutiny of President Trump’s financial and legal dealings.
The Supreme Court has yet to issue a ruling on whether House panels can gain access to financial records of President Trump’s held by third-party custodians, and also has yet to decide on whether a New York State criminal investigation can obtain the records from the President’s longtime accounting firm.
In those cases, Trump hired personal attorneys to represent him.
But the Mueller grand jury materials case has pitted Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department against Congress, as the former has argued that grand jury secrecy prevents lawmakers from seeing the materials, and that President Trump’s impeachment last year on separate charges obviated the need to disclose the documents.
Barr refused to disclose the evidence following a subpoena for the information issued last year by the House Judiciary Committee.
In October, chief judge for the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia Beryl Howell upheld the committee’s demand for the information.
“In carrying out the weighty constitutional duty of determining whether impeachment of the President is warranted, Congress need not redo the nearly two years of effort spent on the Special Counsel’s investigation, nor risk being misled by witnesses, who may have provided information to the grand jury and the Special Counsel that varies from what they tell HJC,” Howell wrote.
The Justice Department has repeatedly tried to delay the proceedings, offering to engage in negotiations with the House to reach an accommodation — an offer that Howell said “smacks of farce.”
The Court’s decision to take up the case effectively hands Trump a victory by delaying any result beyond the 2020 election.