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Judge Mandates Partial Release of Watergate 'Road Map' That Could Offer Guidance to Impeach Trump

Legal scholars argue the report on former President Richard Nixon "would be a vital touchstone for the public and Congress" to assess actions and findings related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing probe

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Legal scholars have noted that "many of President Trump's actions that his critics say constitute obstruction of justice had parallels in the Nixon presidency." (Photos: National Archives/Getty Images; AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

In a move that some legal experts say could provide guidance on efforts to impeach President Donald Trump, a federal judge on Thursday ordered the partial release of a report that Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski had called the "road map," which detailed evidence about former President Richard Nixon's involvement with the Watergate break-in and the attempted cover-up.

Jaworski had delivered the road map to the House Judiciary Committee in 1974. In an order (pdf) first reported by Politico, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell instructed the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to "promptly begin the process of reviewing and releasing" the road map's two-page summary and 53-point list of individual statements, as well as 81 supporting documents that are already in the public domain.

For the 16 supporting documents that have not yet been seen by the public, Howell ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to "contact any individuals whose privacy might be implicated" by their release, to determine their opinions on making the documents public, and to file status updates on such efforts every 30 days.

While Howell's order comes in response to a previously rejected request from California attorney Geoffrey Shepard—a member of Nixon's defense team who says he wants "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"—it also fulfills a much more recent request motivated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into allegations of collusion and obstruction of justice against the Trump campaign and administration, including the president.

As Politico reported:

What may have spurred action on Shepard's 7-year-old petition is a similar request filed last month by three scholars urging the court to make the road map public. However, that request was narrower than Shepard's, and it sought only the summaries—not the underlying materials.

Those making the new request—Stephen Bates, a University of Nevada journalism professor and former Whitewater investigation prosecutor; Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor; and Lawfare editor Benjamin Wittes—said they were acting to spur discussion about the mechanism Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski used and how it could be used by Mueller.

As Bates, Goldsmith, and Wittes outlined in a blog post last month, "to the extent that Mueller is contemplating a referral to Congress of possible impeachment material, he has two historical models of such documents to draw on. One, the so-called Starr Report, is famous and publicly available. The other is a document most people have never heard of: the 'road map.'"

Referencing reporting that Mueller is considering producing a report for lawmakers to detail the findings of his investigation, the trio argued that the road map should be made public not only for the special counsel to review, but also because it "would be a vital touchstone for the public and Congress to assess his actions," which includes serving as "an important point of comparison in judging the validity of Mueller's failure to issue a report."

Noting that "many of President Trump's actions that his critics say constitute obstruction of justice had parallels in the Nixon presidency" and "the House of Representatives, in its first article of impeachment, charged Nixon with obstruction of justice based in part on his 'interfering'" with investigations by federal agencies, the trio further argued that "the road map might also have substantive legal relevance."

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