Rule of Law

In re: Application of the Committee on the Judiciary

In In re: Application of the Committee on the Judiciary, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit considered whether the district court had the authority to approve the House Judiciary Committee’s request for portions of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, and other related documents, that the Department of Justice has withheld from the Committee based on grand-jury secrecy rules.

Case Summary

In March 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued a detailed report of his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and President Trump’s many efforts to obstruct that investigation. The version of the report that was released publicly and to Members of Congress, however, was significantly redacted. More specifically, several key portions of the report that referenced grand jury proceedings or materials were omitted pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), which governs when and to whom grand jury materials may be disclosed.  In July 2019, the House Judiciary Committee filed an application requesting that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia release to the Committee those portions of the Report redacted as grand jury materials, as well as any underlying grand jury transcripts or exhibits that are referenced in the redacted portions of the report or that are related to actions of the President that the Committee is investigating. In August 2019, CAC filed an amicus curiae brief in the district court in support of the Judiciary Committee’s request, and on October 25, 2019, the district court granted the Committee’s application. The Department of Justice appealed the district court’s decision, and we filed an amicus curiae brief in the D.C. Circuit.

Our brief made several points. First, the brief explained that the tradition of maintaining the secrecy of grand jury proceedings is not absolute, and courts have regularly disclosed grand jury materials in appropriate circumstances throughout American history.  The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, enacted in 1942, were intended to continue that tradition of allowing courts to disclose grand jury materials where appropriate.  Among other things, those Rules allow courts to permit disclosure “preliminarily to or in connection with a judicial proceeding.”  Second, the brief described the long history of Congress receiving grand jury materials to further its impeachment and investigative functions, both before and after the Rules’ passage.  Most importantly, a D.C. district court permitted a 1972 grand jury to draft a report detailing its investigation of President Nixon, and the court disclosed that report to Congress.  The D.C. Circuit has twice affirmed this disclosure, recently explaining that a congressional impeachment investigation qualifies as a judicial proceeding under Rule 6(e). Third, the brief explained that the House Judiciary Committee is currently investigating whether to recommend President Trump’s impeachment, which qualifies as a judicial proceeding for purposes of Rule 6(e).  Moreover, disclosure was warranted here given, among other things, the significance of Congress’s impeachment function and the importance of the Committee receiving these materials.

On March 10, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court, ruling in favor of the House Judiciary Committee. The Court recognized that it is the district court, not the Department of Justice, that “controls access” to grand jury materials like the ones underlying the Mueller Report, and that the district court had authority to order disclosure to the House of certain redacted portions of the Mueller Report and the underlying grand jury materials. Indeed, the Court explained that numerous historical examples make clear that district courts enjoy this authority.

Case Timeline

  • August 30, 2019

    CAC files an amicus curiae brief in district court on behalf of the Judiciary Committee

    D.D.C. Amicus Brief
  • October 8, 2019

    The District Court hears oral arguments

  • October 25, 2019

    The District Court issues its decision

    D.D.C. Opinion
  • October 28, 2019

    The Department of Justice (DOJ) appeals the case to the D.C. Circuit and files a motion for a stay pending appeal

  • November 1, 2019

    CAC files an amicus brief in opposition to DOJ’s motion for a stay

    D.C. Cir. Amicus Br.
  • November 18, 2019

    The D.C. Circuit hears oral arguments on the motion for a stay pending appeal and grants the stay

  • December 16, 2019

    CAC files an amicus curiae brief in the D.C. Circuit on behalf of the Judiciary Committee

    D.C. Cir. Amicus Br.
  • January 3, 2020

    The D.C. Circuit hears oral arguments on the merits

  • March 10, 2020

    The D.C. Circuit issues its decision