Saturday, November 2, 2019

It's Mueller Time Once Again

BuzzFeed News reporter Jason Leopold and his team sued the Justice Department over Mueller probe documents, specifically the FBI note, search warrants, and subpoenas that the Mueller squad used, and a federal judge agreed, with the first set of 500 documents out today.

Beginning last April, BuzzFeed News has pursued five separate Freedom of Information Act lawsuits to pry loose all the subpoenas and search warrants that Mueller’s team executed, as well as all the emails, memos, letters, talking points, legal opinions, and interview transcripts it generated. In short, we asked for all the communications of any kind that passed through the special counsel’s office. We also requested all of the documents that would reveal the discussions among Attorney General Bill Barr, former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, and other high-ranking officials about whether to charge President Donald Trump with obstruction.

Justice Department lawyers said the volume of records at issue could total 18 billion pages and could take centuries to produce.

At a hearing earlier this month, US District Court Judge Reggie Walton was not sympathetic. “It shouldn’t fall on the backs of the citizens to wait years to find out what the government is up to,” he said. If the Justice Department couldn’t handle the request in a more timely fashion, he added, it should ask Congress for money to hire more help.

Today, in response to a court order, the Justice Department has released the first installment of documents: 500 pages of summaries of FBI interviews with witnesses, available here for the first time. Another installment will be released every month for at least the next eight years.

Known as “302 reports,” these summaries of interviews — which have been conducted with people such as former White House counsel Don McGahn, former attorney general Jeff Sessions, and Trump’s former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen — are some of the most important and highly sought-after documents from Mueller’s investigation. They reveal what key players in the campaign told FBI agents about Russia, Trump, his business dealings, and his attempts to impede the special counsel’s investigation.

Matt Topic, the lawyer who argued these cases for BuzzFeed News, said the controversies surrounding Mueller’s report made the fight for these documents particularly urgent. “The reason we have a Freedom of Information Act is to make sure that the government is accountable to the people,” he said. Without it, people are powerless “to determine whether the government is telling us the truth or lying to us, whether it is playing favorites or playing fair, whether, as the president claims, the Justice Department engaged in an illegal, treasonous witch hunt or, as others have claimed, the president engaged in obstruction of justice and was given a free pass by the attorney general.”

After years of speculation and accusation, these documents offer a chance for everyone to view a key function of American democracy. That opportunity — hard-won, but enshrined anew with each additional FOIA release — commences today. It will last long after all the players have departed.

The first batch of documents are posted here online, and while there's no bombshell level stuff yet, there are some very interesting new wrinkles, such as Bannon though Manafort should be "avoided like the plague" and that he though Michael Cohen was "the kind of guy who thought it was a good idea to send $130,000 to Stormy Daniels".

It's the gift that keeps on giving...

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