Thursday, October 31, 2019

Can a Single District Court Judge Make a Difference in an Impeachment?

Judge John Sirica
In March 1973, Watergate burglar, James McCord, wrote Judge John Sirica a letter stating his earlier trial testimony for burglary, conspiracy and wiretapping was perjured and the burglary was not a CIA operation. He was motivated by “Maximum John” Sirica’s 25-year sentence. His cooperation became the first of many Watergate defendants that Sirica fostered by his tough trial action and reputation.

Is Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for D.C., Beryl Howell, a new Sirica? Her 75-page opinion is being cited widely not only as a rejection of the Justice Department’s refusal to turn over redacted parts of the Mueller Report to the House Judiciary Committee, but offered a strong rebuttal to the White House’s and its counsel’s total stonewalling of the entire House impeachment process as “constitutionally invalid.”

Chief Judge Beryl Howell | Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM
Howell ruled that the Judiciary Committee’s request was part of a valid impeachment inquiry and that: “Blocking access to evidence collected by a grand jury relevant to an impeachment inquiry, as DOJ urges, undermines the House’s ability to carry out its constitutional responsibility with due diligence.”

She specifically rebuked the White House Counsel’s letter as an overreach that strengthened the Judiciary Committee’s case.

“The White House’s stated policy of non-cooperation with the impeachment inquiry weighs heavily in favor of disclosure. Congress’s need to access grand jury material relevant to potential impeachable conduct by a President is heightened when the Executive Branch willfully obstructs channels for accessing other relevant evidence.”

Howell also rejected the White House’s and the DOJ’s position that there had to be a House vote to start in inquiry.

Although this ruling will likely be appealed, it undermines the critical rationale of the White House/DOJ case. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had her own rejoinder: “Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.”

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