Judge Orders Release of Watergate Documents That Could Aid Mueller in Russia Probe Report

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A federal judge ordered the unsealing of a significant portion of the grand jury report sent to the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 regarding the infamous break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate hotel and President Richard Nixon‘s role in covering it up. The report is commonly referred to as the Watergate “road map,” and could potentially be used to aid Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign.

The report includes a two-page summary, 53 numbered statements,and 97 supporting documents. On Thursday, Judge Beryl Howell ordered the release of 81 of those documents, as they had been made public in the past, but also instructed the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to review the remaining materials for possible release.

“NARA shall promptly begin the process of reviewing and releasing the 2-page summary, 53 statements, and 81 documents,” Judge Howell said in her order, adding that the Department of Justice has until October 22 to review the other 16 pages for possible release. The DOJ is instructed to contact anyone whose privacy may be compromised by releasing them, and to “ascertain their views” as to whether to release the materials. On November 9, and every 30 days after, the DOJ will have to submit status reports of the review process.

This comes as part of a petition filed by Geoffrey Shepard, an attorney who was on President Nixon’s defense team, seven years ago. Shepard’s request was intended to shed light on how President Nixon was named as a co-conspirator, but the result could have present-day significance.

“The central focus of my request is to know what prosecutors told the grand jury to convince them to adopt the road map as their own and to name Richard Nixon as a co-conspirator in the Watergate cover-up,” Shepard told Politico.

Last month, however, a new request was submitted by journalism professor and former Whitewater proeecutor Stephen Bates, law professor Jack Goldsmith, and Lawfare editor Benjamin Wittes. That request only sought the road map’s summaries and not the underlying documents, but they felt that was enough to provide insight into the work of Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski. That insight, they said, could be beneficial to Mueller, who is currently investigating a possible scandal involving a president.

It is expected that Mueller will submit a report at the conclusion of his investigation, and if he is looking to make a referral to Congress for possible impeachment, the road map could be a valuable guide, according to Bates, Goldsmith, and Wittes. In a Lawfare blog post, they explained its relevance.

“If Mueller decides to send a report to Congress, perhaps through [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein, the Road Map would be a vital touchstone for the public and Congress to assess his actions,” they wrote, noting that it would be a valuable tool that the public could use to evaluate the legality and legitimacy of the investigation. “If Mueller or Rosenstein decides to issue a report on something akin to the Road Map model, it would be important to compare the level of factual detail that they include in any transmission to Congress with the level of detail in the Road Map.”

[Image via Andrew Burton/Getty Images]

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