Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday asked a federal judge to block Congress from obtaining grand jury evidence obtained during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Appearing before Beryl Howell, the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the DOJ argued that the Court should not abide by past precedent in deciding whether the sealed grand jury evidence should be released to House investigators. According to The Washington Post’s legal reporter Spencer Hsu, the government attorneys asked Howell to “reject House Judiciary Committee request for Mueller grand jury materials,” arguing that the 1974 court “wrongly gave Congress the Watergate grand jury ‘roadmap‘ that led to President Nixon’s impeachment.”
“Wow, okay,” an unconvinced Howell reportedly responded before describing the DOJ’s as having taken “an extraordinary position in this case.”
Howell followed up by saying that precedent created in both the federal circuit courts and the Supreme Court dictate that she give “enormous deference” to the Judiciary Committee’s request for the sealed materials, particularly in light of House Democrats recently announced impeachment inquiry, according to Politico.
Former federal prosecutor and current professor at the University of Alabama Law School Joyce White Vance reacted to the DOJ’s argument in much the same manner as Judge Howell, calling the government’s argument “remarkable.”
“A bedrock principle of American jurisprudence is stare decis – following prior cases. Remarkable for DOJ to argue the Watergate case is wrong & should be ignored as its rationale to keep Congress from Mueller grand jury materials,” Vance tweeted, adding, “Smacks of desperation to keep the truth hidden.”
Public defender and Senior Staff Attorney and Director of Policy at Brooklyn Defender Services Scott Hechinger also seemed incredulous that the DOJ would espouse such an argument.
“The DOJ has been diminished to arguing that Nixon’s impeachment inquiry was illegal in order to protect Trump,” he tweeted.
That sentiment was echoed by UC Davis School of Law professor Elizabeth Joh, who quipped that we are “now entering the ‘Nixon was railroaded’ portion of the [Trump] presidency.”
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) was optimistic with how the hearing played out. “We are gratified at the seriousness with which the Court addressed our petition for grand jury information relating to the House impeachment inquiry,” Nadler said after arguments concluded. “We remain confident in our case and look forward to the resolution of this matter.”
[Images via Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images, AFP/Getty Images]