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McKeever v. Barr

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

April 5, 2019

Stuart A. McKeever, Appellant
William P. Barr, Attorney General, Appellee

          Argued September 21, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:13-mc-00054)

          Graham E. Phillips, appointed by the court, argued the cause for appellant as amicus curiae in support of appellant. With him on the briefs were Roman Martinez and Nathanael D.S.R. Porembka, appointed by the court.

          Stuart A. McKeever, pro se, was on the brief for appellant.

          Amir C. Tayrani was on the brief for amicus curiae Legal Scholars in support of appellant.

          Brad Hinshelwood, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief was Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney, and Michael S. Raab and Mark R. Freeman, Attorneys. Elizabeth J. Shapiro, Attorney, entered an appearance.

          Before: Srinivasan and Katsas, Circuit Judges, and Ginsburg, Senior Circuit Judge.


          Ginsburg. Senior Circuit Judge

         Historian Stuart A. McKeever appeals an order of the district court denying his petition to release grand jury records from the 1957 indictment of a former agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which McKeever sought in the course of his research for a book he is writing. The district court, lacking positive authority, asserted it has inherent authority to disclose historically significant grand jury matters but denied McKeever's request as overbroad. On appeal, the Government argues the district court does not have the inherent authority it claims but rather is limited to the exceptions to grand jury secrecy listed in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e).

         We agree with the Government. Accordingly, we affirm the order of the district court denying McKeever's petition for the release of grand jury matters.

         I. Background

         In 1956 Columbia University Professor Jesús de Galíndez Suárez disappeared from New York City. News media at the time believed Galíndez, a critic of the regime of Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo, was kidnapped and flown to the Dominican Republic and there murdered by Trujillo's agents. Witness Tells of Galindez Pilot's Death, N.Y. Times (Apr. 6, 1964); Dwight D. Eisenhower, The President's News Conference of April 25, 1956, in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States 440-41 (1956). To this day, the details of Galíndez's disappearance remain a mystery.

         Stuart McKeever has been researching and writing about the disappearance of Professor Galíndez since 1980. In 2013 McKeever petitioned the district court for the "release of grand jury records in the Frank case," referring to the 1957 investigation and indictment of John Joseph Frank, a former FBI agent and CIA lawyer who later worked for Trujillo, and who McKeever believed was behind Galíndez's disappearance. The grand jury indicted Frank for charges related to his failure to register as a foreign agent pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 but never indicted him for any involvement in Galíndez's murder. See Frank v. United States, 262 F.2d 695, 696 (D.C. Cir. 1958).

         The district court asserted it has "inherent supervisory authority" to disclose grand jury matters that are historically significant, but nevertheless denied McKeever's request after applying the multifactor test set out In re Craig, 131 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 1997). Although several of the nine non-exhaustive factors favored disclosure, the district court read McKeever's petition as seeking release of all the grand jury "testimony and records in the Frank case," which it held was overbroad. McKeever duly appealed.[1]

         We review de novo the district court's assertion of inherent authority to disclose what we assume are historically significant grand jury matters. Cf. United States v. Doe, 934 F.2d 353, 356 (D.C. Cir. 1991). Because we hold the district court has no such authority, we need not determine whether it abused its discretion in denying McKeever's petition as overbroad.[2]

         II. Analysis

         The Supreme Court has long maintained that "the proper functioning of our grand jury system depends upon the secrecy of grand jury proceedings." Douglas Oil Co. v. Petrol Stops Northwest, 441 U.S. 211, 218 (1979). That secrecy safeguards vital interests in (1) preserving the willingness and candor of witnesses called before the grand jury; (2) not alerting the target of an investigation who might otherwise flee or interfere with the grand jury; and (3) preserving the rights of a suspect who might later be exonerated. Id. at 219. To protect these important interests,

[b]oth the Congress and [the Supreme] Court have consistently stood ready to defend [grand jury secrecy] against unwarranted intrusion. In the absence of a clear indication in a statute or Rule, we must always be reluctant to conclude that a breach of this secrecy has been authorized.

United States v. Sells Engineering, Inc., 463 U.S. 418, 425 (1983).

         As we have said before, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) "makes quite clear that disclosure of matters occurring before the grand jury is the exception and not the rule" and "sets forth in precise terms to whom, under what circumstances and on what conditions grand jury information may be disclosed." Fund of Constitutional Gov't v. Nat'l Archives & Records Serv., 656 F.2d 856, 868 (D.C. Cir. 1981). The full text of Rule 6(e) is reproduced in the Appendix. Of particular relevance here, Rule 6(e)(2)(B) sets out the general rule of grand jury secrecy and provides a list of "persons" who "must not disclose a matter occurring before the grand jury" "[u]nless these rules provide otherwise." Rule 6(e)(3) then sets forth a detailed list of "exceptions" to grand jury secrecy, including in subparagraph (E) five circumstances in which a "court may authorize disclosure ... of a grand-jury matter." As McKeever does not claim his request comes within any exception, the question before us is whether the list of exceptions is exhaustive, as the Government argues.

         We agree with the Government's understanding of the Rule. Rule 6(e)(2)(B) instructs that persons bound by grand jury secrecy must not make any disclosures about grand jury matters "[u]nless these rules provide otherwise." The only rule to "provide otherwise" is Rule 6(e)(3). Rules 6(e)(2) and (3) together explicitly require secrecy in all other circumstances. See Andrus v. Glover Constr. Co., 446 U.S. 608, 616-17 (1980) ("Where Congress explicitly enumerates certain exceptions to a general prohibition, additional exceptions are not to be implied, in the absence of evidence of a contrary legislative intent").

         That the list of enumerated exceptions is so specific bolsters our conclusion. For example, the first of the five discretionary exceptions in Rule 6(e)(3)(E) permits the court to authorize disclosure of a grand jury matter "preliminarily to or in connection with a judicial proceeding." Rule 6(e)(3)(E)(i). The second exception allows for disclosure "at the request of a defendant who shows that a ground may exist to dismiss the indictment because of a matter that occurred before the grand jury." Rule 6(e)(3)(E)(ii). The other three exceptions provide that a court may authorize disclosure to certain non-federal officials "at the request of the government" to aid in the enforcement of a criminal law, Rule 6(e)(3)(E)(iii)-(v); those provisions implicitly bar the court from releasing materials to aid in enforcement of civil law. Each of the exceptions can clearly be seen, therefore, as the product of a carefully considered policy judgment by the Supreme Court in its rulemaking capacity, and by the Congress, which in 1977 directly enacted Rule 6(e) in substantially its present form. See Fund for Constitutional Gov't, 656 F.2d at 867. In interpreting what is now Rule 6(e)(3)(E)(i), for example, the Supreme Court stressed that the exception "reflects a judgment that not every beneficial purpose, or even every valid governmental purpose, is an appropriate reason for breaching grand jury secrecy." United States v. Baggot, 463 U.S. 476, 480 (1983).

         As the Government emphasizes, McKeever points to nothing in Rule 6(e)(3) that suggests a district court has authority to order disclosure of grand jury matter outside the enumerated exceptions. The list of exceptions in Rule 6(e)(3) does not lead with the term "including," nor does it have a residual exception. Cf., e.g., Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b) (permitting the court to relieve a party from a final judgment or order for five listed reasons as well as "any other reason that justifies relief").

         The contrary reading proposed by McKeever - which would allow the district court to create such new exceptions as it thinks make good public policy - would render the detailed list of exceptions merely precatory and impermissibly enable the court to "circumvent" or "disregard" a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure. Carlisle v. United States, 517 U.S. 416, 426 (1996); see also Dietz v. Bouldin, 136 S.Ct. 1885, 1888 (2016) (The exercise of an inherent power "cannot be contrary to any express grant of, or limitation on, the district court's power contained in a rule or statute").

         In an effort to limit the natural consequences of his proposal, McKeever explains that the district court should be allowed to fashion new exceptions to grand jury secrecy only if they are "so different from the types of disclosures addressed by Rule 6(e)(3)(E) that no negative inference can be drawn." Amicus Reply Br. 14-16. That reasoning, however, ignores the likelihood that disclosures "so different" from the ones explicitly permitted by the rule are so far removed from permissible purposes of disclosure that the drafters saw no need even to mention them.

         Our understanding that deviations from the detailed list of exceptions in Rule 6(e) are not permitted is fully in keeping with Supreme Court precedent. Though the Court has not squarely addressed the present question, its Rule 6 opinions cast grave doubt upon the proposition that the district court has authority to craft new exceptions. McKeever does not cite any case - and we can find none - in which the Supreme Court upheld a disclosure pursuant to the district court's inherent authority after Rule 6 was enacted. The Supreme Court once suggested in a dictum that Rule 6 "is but declaratory" of the principle that disclosure of a grand jury matter is "committed to the discretion of the trial judge," Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. v. United States, 360 U.S. 395, 399 (1959), but none of the cases it cited suggests a court has discretion to disclose grand jury materials apart from Rule 6. To the contrary, the Court said "any disclosure of grand jury [materials] is covered" by Rule 6(e). Id. at 398. The disclosure sought in that case - in order to cross-examine a witness in civil litigation - plainly fell within the exception for use "in connection with a judicial proceeding." Id. at 396 n.1 (quoting rule). The only "discretion" at issue involved the district court's determination whether the party seeking material covered by the exception had made a sufficiently strong showing of need to warrant disclosure. See id. at 398-99; see also Douglas Oil, 441 U.S. at 217-24 (describing same discretion). Indeed, the Court has at least four times since suggested the exceptions in Rule 6(e) are exclusive. In Baggot, 463 U.S. at 479-80, the Court prohibited disclosure of a witness's grand jury testimony for use in a civil investigation by the Internal Revenue Service. The Court held a civil tax audit was not "preliminary to [n]or in connection with a judicial proceeding" and therefore did not come within the exception in what is now Rule 6(e)(3)(E)(i). In reaching its conclusion, the Court explained that the exception at issue is "on its face, an affirmative limitation on the availability of court-ordered disclosure of grand jury materials." Id. at 479; see also Illinois v. Abbott & Assocs., Inc., 460 U.S. 557, 567 (1983) (Rule 6(e)(3)(C) "authorize[s]" the court "to permit certain disclosures that are otherwise prohibited by the General Rule of Secrecy"); United States v. Williams, 504 U.S. 36, 46 n.6 (1992) (describing Rule 6(e), which "plac[es] strict controls on disclosure of 'matters occurring before the grand jury, '" as one of those "few, clear rules which were carefully drafted and approved by this Court and by the Congress to ensure the integrity of the grand jury's functions"); Sells Engineering, 463 U.S. at 425 ("In the absence of a clear indication in a statute or Rule, we must always be reluctant to conclude that a breach of this secrecy has been authorized").

         Our understanding of Rule 6(e) is also supported by this court's precedents, which require a district court to hew strictly to the list of exceptions to grand jury secrecy. For example, In re Sealed Case, 801 F.2d 1379, 1381 (D.C. Cir. 1986), we said Rule 6(e)(2) "provides that disclosure of 'matters occurring before the grand jury' is prohibited unless specifically permitted by one of the exceptions set forth in Rule 6(e)(3)." A few years later, we reiterated this point In re Sealed Case, 250 F.3d 764, 768 (D.C. Cir. 2001), when we held that statements made by government attorneys to a qui tam court about a witness's grand jury testimony were an impermissible disclosure outside the strictures of Rule 6(e). In so holding, we rejected the Government's then-position that there is a place for implied exceptions to the Rule: "the Rule on its face prohibits such a communication because it does not except it from the general prohibition." Id. at 769. It would be most peculiar to have stressed then that the exceptions in Rule 6(e) "must be narrowly construed," id. 769, yet to hold now that they may be supplemented by unwritten additions.[3]

         McKeever makes three arguments to the contrary. The first is that Rule 6(e) imposes no obligation of secrecy upon the district court itself because the district court is not on the list of "persons" to whom grand jury secrecy applies per Rule 6(e)(2). See Rule 2(e)(2)(A) ("No obligation of secrecy may be imposed on any person except in accordance with Rule 6(e)(2)(B)"). Therefore, the argument goes, the two Sealed Cases discussed above are inapplicable here because they deal with disclosures by government attorneys, not by the court itself, and the court has authority to order disclosure of grand jury matters because these materials are "judicial records" over which the court has inherent authority. Amicus Br. 24-25 (citing, inter alia, Carlson v. United States, 837 F.3d 753, 758-59 (7th Cir. 2016) (concluding grand jury records are "records of the court" over which the district court can exercise inherent authority because the grand jury is "part of the judicial process")).

         We do not agree that the omission of the district court from the list of "persons" in Rule 6(e)(2) supports McKeever's claim. Rule 6 assumes the records are in the custody of the Government, not that of the court: When the court authorizes their disclosure, it does so by ordering "an attorney for the government" who holds the records to disclose the materials. See Rule 6(e)(1) ("Unless the court orders otherwise, an attorney for the government will retain control of the recording, the reporter's notes, and any transcript" of the grand jury proceeding). Because an "attorney for the government" is one of the "persons" subject to grand jury secrecy in Rule 6(e)(2)(B), the Rule need not also list the district court as a "person" in order to make the court, as a practical matter, subject to the strictures of Rule 6. Indeed, as the Government explains, a district court is not ordinarily privy to grand jury matters unless called upon to respond to a request to disclose grand jury matter. As to whether records of a grand jury proceeding are "judicial records" - a term not found in Rule 6 - we note the teaching of the Supreme Court that although the grand jury may act "under judicial auspices," its "institutional relationship with the Judicial Branch has traditionally been, so to speak, at arm's length," Williams, 504 U.S. at 47; it is therefore not at all clear that when Rule 6(e)(2)(B) mentions a "matter appearing before the grand jury," it is referring to a "judicial record." The Supreme Court has never said as much, and we, albeit in another context, have twice said the opposite: "[T]he concept of a judicial record 'assumes a judicial decision,' and with no such decision, there is 'nothing judicial to record." SEC v. Am. Int'l Grp., 712 F.3d 1, 3 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. El-Sayegh, 131 F.3d 158, 162 (D.C. Cir. 1997)).

         McKeever's second argument, which was recently accepted by the Seventh Circuit in Carlson, is that the advent of Rule 6 did not eliminate the district court's preexisting authority at common law to disclose grand jury matters because courts "do not lightly assume" a federal rule reduces the "scope of a court's inherent power." Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 47 (1991) (citation omitted). A federal rule that "permits a court to do something and does not include any limiting language" therefore "should not give rise to a negative inference that it abrogates the district court's inherent power without a 'clear[] expression of [that] purpose.'" Carlson, 837 F.3d at 763 (quoting Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 631-32 (1962)) (alterations in original). In this telling, because Rule 6 did not contain a "clear expression" that it displaced the district court's preexisting authority, the court remains free to craft new exceptions; the rulemakers simply furnished the list of detailed exceptions "so that the court knows that no special hesitation is necessary in those circumstances." Id. at 764-65.

         That account of Rule 6 is difficult to square with the text of the Rule, which we have examined above. The "limiting language," id. at 763, the Seventh Circuit sought is plain: Rule 6(e)(2) prohibits disclosure of a grand jury matter "unless these rules provide otherwise." Yet the Seventh Circuit dismisses this instruction because a limitation "buried" in Rule 6(e)(2) could not "secretly appl[y]" to "an entirely different subpart," Carlson, 837 F.3d at 764, never mind that this subpart follows immediately after Rule 6(e)(2) as Rule 6(e)(3). Because we believe it is necessary to read the exceptions in subpart (e)(3) in conjunction with the general rule in subpart (e)(2), we agree with Judge Sykes's dissent in Carlson:

As my colleagues interpret the rule, the limiting language in the secrecy provision has no bearing at all on the exceptions.... But the two provisions cannot be read in isolation. They appear together in subpart (e), sequentially, and govern the same subject matter. The exceptions plainly modify the general rule of nondisclosure. Treating the exceptions as merely exemplary puts the two provisions at cross-purposes: If the district court has inherent authority to disclose grand-jury materials to persons and in circumstances not listed ...

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