A federal judge forced the Justice Department today to compare proceedings during Watergate to the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
Judge Beryl Howell grilled House and Justice Department lawyers on the current inquiry for more than two hours. The hearing was set to focus on grand jury secrets in the report by special counsel Robert Mueller, but Howell has asked several pointed questions about the parameters of the current impeachment probe.
At one point, Howell cut off a Justice Department lawyer arguing the administration could withhold grand jury secrets from Congress.
She then brought up Judge John Sirica, who became one of President Richard Nixon’s greatest foils during Watergate. Sirica had ruled to give a secret grand jury report to Congress as it investigated Nixon. Its release bolstered impeachment so much it was called the “Watergate roadmap.”
Howell asked twice, “Was former Judge Sirica wrong?"
Justice Department attorney Elizabeth Shapiro said the Nixon-era judge wasn’t wrong at the time, but the Watergate grand jury decision by the court may have resulted differently today.
Howell responded to Shapiro, saying, "Wow."
"The Department (of Justice) is taking an extraordinary position in this case," Howell said.
What this hearing is all about: This hearing has covered many of the legal questions that the House and White House are fighting over this week as the Ukraine impeachment inquiry moves forward.