Lawyers from the Department of Justice argued against releasing grand jury information from the Russia investigation headed by former special counsel Robert Mueller, using a highly unorthodox argument that purported a key judicial ruling from the Watergate era was made in error.
The case, Haldeman v. Sirica, found that grand jury information, when requested by congressional committees for the purposes of gathering details related to an impeachment inquiry of the president, could not be restricted or denied by the executive branch.
Such information should be handed over to “the House of Representatives in a proceeding of so great import as an impeachment investigation,” Chief Judge John Sirica ruled in1974, according to reporting from Slate.
The judgment from that case is oftentimes referred to as the “Watergate road map,” as the information gathered from the grand jury at that time was instrumental in pushing forward the case for former President Richard Nixon’s removal from office.
But Justice Department lawyers this week said they believe the ruling was wrongly decided, and that the same outcome wouldn’t happen in today’s courts.
It was enough to cause Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell to be taken aback, due to its brazenness.
NEW Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell of Washington D.C. balks at Justice Dept. bid to deny House access to Mueller grand-jury materials. https://t.co/iXBJuQ9d0Y
— Spencer Hsu (@hsu_spencer) October 8, 2019
“Wow, okay,” Howell responded, according to the Washington Post. She also observed that “the department is taking extraordinary positions” in trying to prevent grand jury material from the Mueller investigation from reaching Congress’ hands.
DOJ lawyers pushed forward with their assumptions.
“If that same case were heard today, a different result would obtain,” Justice Department civil division lawyer Elizabeth Shapiro maintained.