Chief Justice John Roberts on Friday put a temporary hold on the release of secret materials from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to a Democrat-led House committee.
The order stops the clock on a lower court’s ruling requiring the Justice Department to turn over confidential grand jury materials underlying the Russia probe to the House Judiciary Committee.
Justice Roberts’ order comes a day after the Justice Department petitioned the Supreme Court to temporarily halt the transfer of the materials. The Justice Department would have had to turn over the materials on Monday had the Supreme Court not intervened.
The order is procedural and was not opposed by the Judiciary Committee, which will ask the Supreme Court to release the materials. Justice Roberts’ order set May 18 as the deadline for a response from the Democrats.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the materials to be turned over to the Judiciary Committee in a March decision.
Democrats say they need the materials to continue investigations into President Trump and whether he obstructed Mr. Mueller’s probe into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016.
Ultimately, Mr. Mueller concluded there was no evidence the Trump campaign conspired with Russia.
Democrats began the legal fight for the Mueller materials last year as part of its impeachment inquiry, which ended in Mr. Trump’s acquittal by the U.S. Senate.
Still, Democrats say the materials are necessary for legitimate legislative inquiries into the president’s actions. They have threatened to draw up new impeachment articles if the Mueller documents reveal new evidence.
The Justice Department has argued that grand jury materials are required to remain confidential under federal law. Only in certain circumstances can the materials be disclosed.
Department lawyers have also urged federal courts to stay out of the fight between the Executive and Legislative branches. If the federal courts weigh in, it would appear as if they were taking sides in partisan political fights, they said.
Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in a court filing with the Supreme Court that siding with the Democrats would “raise serious separation-of-powers concerns.”