The Trump administration is again fighting for greater secrecy in a Clinton-focused investigation: this time, the independent counsel probe that explored President Bill Clinton’s relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
A raft of court records from grand jury-related proceedings related to the investigation have remained secret for two decades, but last month a federal judge — acting on a request from CNN — ruled that the vast majority of the files should be made public.
But early Wednesday, the Justice Department appealed that decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The move is likely to delay the release of the request information for months or longer.
The Justice Department had no immediate comment, but court filings indicate that government lawyers made the broad assertion that the court lacks authority to release grand jury records for reasons of "extreme public interest" or any other reason not specifically detailed federal court rules.
Chief U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell disagreed, ruling that the court had "inherent" power to disclose grand jury information for other reasons.
Justice Department attorneys did not object to unsealing some information already made public in a report Independent Counsel Ken Starr sent to Congress in 1998, but Howell said some matters had been so thoroughly aired in the report that there was little point in keeping the related records under wraps.
Most of the files pertain to claims of legal privilege that were brought to fight subpoenas issued at the request of Starr’s office. However, a lawyer for Clinton, David Kendall, asked Howell to release additional records involving litigation over alleged leaks by Starr’s personnel. The judge agreed.
Kendall was granted access to the records being considered for release, but did not object to the disclosures. Several others mentioned in the files were also notified and did not object.
Kendall did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Justice Department’s decision to appeal the order to make the records public.
The new appeal is not the first time the Trump administration has asserted that the Clintons deserve greater privacy from the government.
When President Donald Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey a year ago, the White House said the firing was justified by a Justice Department memo arguing that Comey unfairly smeared former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by publicly denouncing her email practices during an unusual media appearance announcing the closing of an investigation into the issue.
In addition, when the Justice Department fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in March, officials cited what they said was his role in an improper disclosure of an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. McCabe has said he was authorized to discuss such matters with the media.