A federal judge here yesterday refused a Senate Judiciary Committee request for access to transcripts of a lengthy grand jury investigation of the uranium industry.
U.S. District Chief Judge William B. Bryant said the committee was not authorized to see the secret material because it could only be released in connection with a judicial proceeding and not for a solely legislative purpose.
The Senate Committee had requested the material in connection with an investigation it is conducting into the way in which the Justice Department probed the uranium industry.
The department's antitrust division conducted the grand jury case for two years ending in May 1978, and subpoenaed 500,000 documents and heard 90 witnesses. No inductment was ever returned, and the only criminal charge was, a misdemeanor count to which Gulf Oil Corp. pleaded "no contest."
Earlier this year, the uranium probe was reviewed as part of a Senate Judiciary Committee examination of the antitrust division's overall performance. The assistant attorney general in charge of the division said he could not respond about decisions made to seek one misdemeanor charge instead of felonies because of policies against grand jury disclosure.
The Justice Department took no official position on the Senate panel's request, but attorneys for several grand jury witnesses argued to Judge Bryant that the release of the material to the Senate would be illegal. The department did raise the question, however, of whether the more political branch of government should be allowed to see the material without a strong showing of need for it.
Bryant noted that a House committee had gained access to grand jury materials compiled against former President Richard Nixon, but said the emphasis in that case was placed on the fact that the panel was considering impeachment proceedings against the President.
An impeachment trial would be "very much a judicial proceeding," Bryant said, and the current situation is "In no way comparable to those present in the Watergate grand jury case."