The federal judge handling a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking access to an unredacted version of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report ordered the Justice Department to speak with the White House about whether President Trump’s recent tweets about Russia-related declassifications mean the 448-page report should be released in full.
Judge Reggie Walton, who has critiqued Attorney General William Barr’s handling of the Mueller report in the past, made his ruling on Thursday night in response to an emergency motion filed by BuzzFeed, which has been seeking access to the entire April 2019 report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and unproven claims of Trump-Russia collusion. The emergency motion seeking a court order requiring the DOJ to reprocess the Mueller report before the November election was filed by the outlet after Trump posted a series of tweets saying that a host of documents should be released and seemingly claiming that everything related to the Russia investigation had been declassified by him.
Walton said the Justice Department must respond to BuzzFeed’s motion by Oct. 13 and “shall address the plaintiffs’ claim that the tweets by President Donald Trump referred to in the plaintiffs’ motion resulted in the waiver of exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act for the report prepared by Special Counsel Robert Mueller regarding his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election.” The judge added that the Justice Department was further ordered to “confer with the White House in order to advise the Court as to the White House’s official position regarding the declassification and release to the public of information related to the Russia investigation.” BuzzFeed will then have until Oct. 14 to file its own response before the Justice Department and the outlet appear for a teleconference with the court on Oct. 16.
Trump announced that he authorized the declassification of all documents related to both the Trump-Russia investigation and the emails belonging to failed presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a Tuesday night tweetstorm. The president said that all documents declassified will not include any redactions.
“I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax. Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. No redactions!” Trump tweeted Tuesday night, adding that “all Russia Hoax Scandal information was Declassified by me long ago. Unfortunately for our Country, people have acted very slowly, especially since it is perhaps the biggest political crime in the history of our Country. Act!!!”
The legal team for BuzzFeed pointed to Trump’s Twitter activity in its Thursday court filing, claiming that “as a result” of Trump’s tweets, “any FOIA exemptions have been waived,” with the exception of disclosures prohibited by the Privacy Act, rules protecting grand jury material, “or other statutes that prohibit release.”
“This Court has repeatedly recognized the importance of these records to the November 3, 2020 election,” BuzzFeed lawyer Matthew Topic wrote on Thursday. “Plaintiffs ask the Court to order the government to reprocess the Report in light of this waiver. This should be a simple process that requires no independent analysis or consultation beyond simply reviewing which exemptions were asserted and removing the applicable redactions based solely on which exemption claimed.”
Mueller’s report concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” but it “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.” DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December report outlined a host of problems with the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation, especially with its abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process.
Trump’s tweets came hours after Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified two heavily redacted Russia-related documents, including handwritten notes from former CIA Director John Brennan that showed he briefed then-President Barack Obama in 2016 on an unverified Russian intelligence report alleging that Clinton planned in July 2016 on tying then-candidate Trump to Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee to distract from her use of a private email server. It also declassified a September 2016 CIA counterintelligence referral on the allegations to former FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Operations Peter Strzok.
“At the direction of the President of the United States, I have declassified the enclosed documents, inclusive of redactions,” Trump’s intelligence chief said.
Brennan responded to Ratcliffe’s declassification move on CNN on Tuesday, saying, “It is appalling, his selective declassification of information that clearly is designed to advance the political interests of Donald Trump and Republicans who are aligned with him.” Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner said last week, “It’s very disturbing to me that 35 days before an election, a director of national intelligence would release unverified Russian [rumor intelligence].”
Soon after he released a letter last week about the Russian intelligence analysis on Clinton, Ratcliffe issued a follow-up statement that said, “This is not Russian disinformation and has not been assessed as such by the intelligence community.”
Ratcliffe announced on Wednesday that he handed over nearly 1,000 pages of documents to assist in the Justice Department’s inquiry into the Trump-Russia investigators being led by U.S. Attorney John Durham.
“At my direction, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has now provided almost 1,000 pages of materials to the Department of Justice in response to Mr. Durham’s document requests,” Ratcliffe said. “I will continue to ensure the Intelligence Community’s responsiveness to the DOJ’s requests. We also look forward to supporting the DOJ in further declassifications consistent with their investigation. As the President has made clear, we must be appropriately transparent with the American people and give them the confidence that the extraordinary work of Intelligence professionals is never misused or politicized.”
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