The new chief justice of the federal courts in Washington, D.C., is poised to take over as the post has become one of the most influential in the nation’s capital, playing a key role in deciding whether the former president will influence the issue donald trump be accused.
Chief Justice Beryl Howell, who has held the position since 2016, has repeatedly granted Justice Department requests to pursue information about Trump’s actions from his top advisers and lawyers, and even from within the White House. She will be succeeded by James “Jeb” Boasberg, an associate of Barack Obama and former roommate of Brett Kavanaugh Law School, who is well known in Washington.
While presiding over highly classified foreign intelligence surveillance courts in 2020 and 2021, Boasberg Encourage information declassification So the public can read about the proceedings related to the FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump and Russia.
If the Justice Department were to prosecute Trump, the case would be randomly assigned to a judge in the district court, meaning the chief judge could handle the case, but it might not. Still, the chief justice has unusual leverage over the speed and scope of the investigation as the Justice Department attempts to enforce its grand jury subpoenas, obtain search warrants and gather evidence by arguing with the chief justice in confidential proceedings.
“This court will be ready,” Howell said in a recent CNN interview, when asked about the historic possibility of Trump being indicted. She added that any judge on the court “would do justice”.
Howell, who steps down on Friday, could end her term with a decision in a sealed case related to special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his handling of classified material at Mar-a-Lago. She has awarded ex-government official Kash Patel Testimony immunity He provided the grand jury investigation. She also delayed the Justice Department’s request that Trump defy his alleged failure to turn over subpoenaed classified documents.
The District of Columbia federal court has played its part in major criminal investigations of politicians in the past. A framed Time magazine featuring John Sirica, the district court’s Watergate-era chief justice, is on display outside the courthouse. Howell in recent years, nod to siricahe gave federal investigators access to records related to then-President Richard Nixon that hastened his resignation.
Sirica has played an unusually public role in one of the most fraught criminal investigations Washington has ever seen. Howell and Boasberg prefer to work behind the scenes.
“None of us will be Time Magazine’s Person of the Year,” Boasberg told CNN.
Much of Howell’s work on these cases remains under wraps, but details are already in About 10 cases In connection with Smith’s investigation. These include ongoing challenges surrounding former Vice President Mike Pence’s grand jury subpoena and the Justice Department’s attempt to compel Trump’s defense attorney, Evan Corcoran, to answer questions about his interactions with Trump on classified records at Mar-a-Lago. potential incriminating issues.
Still, the chief justice’s role has drawn attention because of the politically charged cases that have come before the court in recent years — sometimes publicly criticized by Trump himself.
Fan social media accounts about Howell have sprung up, one of which is Douyin users Get tens of thousands of pageviews. The posts typically highlight Howell’s serious sarcasm and animated facial expressions during public speeches.
Howell said she and the other judges were shocked when they discovered her video on TikTok.
“I just do my job. We’re pretty much a bunch of nerds,” she says. “Getting novelty important cases is a dream for nerdy lawyers.”
Howell said she was surprised and sometimes uncomfortable at being the center of attention amid the investigations surrounding Trump. Still, she regularly writes scathing opinions, keeping grand jury-related matters accessible to the public and Congress.
After the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Howell became one of the strident voices in the federal government’s response, handling several mob defendant lawsuits early on. She also had to manage a court that was on lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic as it faced an unprecedented influx of new criminal cases.
The courthouse closed on Jan. 6, but Howell realized as he watched rioters flood the Capitol that the Washington District Court would bear the brunt of the cases. She called senior judges, who had dramatically reduced their caseloads, to ask if they would be willing to take on more mob criminal cases.
“We’re going to be busy,” Howell remembers telling them. Nearly all agreed to accept the full criminal case file — a testament to the camaraderie among DC judges.
Later, in a lawsuit by riot defendants, which the public can tune in to listen to, Howell spoke angrily about how she saw armed guards from the window of her room overlooking the National Mall.
“We still live in Washington, D.C., living with the aftermath of the violence this defendant allegedly participated in,” she said during her 2021 hearing.
In known cases during Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation and the current Smith investigation, Howell has repeatedly sided with investigators seeking classified information in their investigations.
In her final weeks as chief justice, Howell made clear in her order that she was trying to be as public as possible — despite strict restrictions from a higher court to protect the grand jury in the ongoing investigation secret.
She gave the Justice Department access to the contents of Republican Rep. Scott Perry’s phone calls in its election-interference investigation, a ruling that is currently on appeal at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Howell also dismissed Trump’s attempt to protect the president’s communications with former White House adviser Pat Cipollone, Vice President Patrick Philbin, and vice presidential advisers Greg Jacobs and Mark Short, and sought their testimony.
However, she declined a reporter’s request for access to the grand jury transcript of the ongoing investigation of Trump on Jan. 6.
One opinion objected to D.C. Circuit precedent that severely limits when judges, including hers, can allow grand juries to release material.
“If public interest in significant historical events or high-ranking government officials could be the sole justification for disclosing grand jury business in exceptional circumstances, the petitioners’ case would be very strong,” Howell wrote. “Unfortunately for petitioners, this is not the standard for disclosure of grand jury material.”
Boasberg recently told CNN that he wants to maintain a similar approach to Howell’s in terms of transparency in the sealing process — releasing information as much as the law allows.
In the FISA courtroom, Boasberg issued a redacted order he wrote condemning the FBI’s reliance on applications filed with the court that contained misleading information, including when investigators attempted to spy on Carter Page, who was A former adviser to Trump who was criminally investigated after his 2016 campaign but was never charged.
In a partially redacted opinion, Boasberg wrote, “The frequency and severity of these errors in a case that, given their sensitivity, required an unusually high level of scrutiny at both the Justice Department and the FBI Calls into question information presented in other FBI filings.”
Most recently, Boasberg received a Justice Department lawsuit seeking to force major Republican donor Steve Wynn to register as a foreign agent for allegedly lobbying the Trump administration on behalf of China. Boasberg agreed with Wynn to dismiss the case, which is currently appealing at the US Circuit Court of Appeals in DC.
Like Howell, Boasberg has made no secret of his concerns about the appeals court’s precedent, which he says limits his approach. He also showed off his sense of humor. Wynn’s opinion included multiple references to the lyrics of the 1990s hip-hop group Fugees, as a member of the group was accused of having ties to the alleged influence scheme.
Boasberg was confirmed as a federal judge in 2011 after receiving a nod from President George W. Bush to serve on the District of Columbia Superior Court eight years ago. The local District of Columbia courthouse is where the former college basketball player flexed his muscles as an assistant U.S. attorney specializing in homicide prosecutions.
In DC legal circles, he has earned a reputation for being friendly with a wide social circle and grew up with several prominent Washingtonians.
“Jeb is very gregarious and Beryl is very reserved,” said Amy Jeffress, a prominent Washington defense attorney whose spouse, Christopher “Casey” Cooper, is also a Washington District Court judge.
Boasberg is currently president of the Edward Bennett Williams Inn of Court, a professional advancement organization for DC lawyers that regularly brings together top prosecutors and defense attorneys.
As a student at Yale Law School, Boasberg lived in a house with current Justice Kavanaugh and six other law students. The former roommates are still close and organize trips together every year.
“Fairness was very important to him,” said Jim Brochin, an attorney who lives with Boasberg at Yale Law School of Eight.
Brochin pointed to Boasberg’s experience as a prosecutor trying murder cases, including some of the “most difficult” cases his office handled at the time, as well as his experience as a judge leading the FISA court.
“He wasn’t afraid to tackle difficult problems,” Brochin said. “There’s nothing to worry him about.”