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Exclusive: Judge to rule on release of special counsel's contacts with media

The Hill logo The Hill 5/17/2018 Jonathan Easley
Robert Mueller wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a door © Provided by The Hill

A federal judge will rule next week on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from a conservative group that wants access to correspondences that special counsel Robert Mueller's team has had with the media.

Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman and Joseph Dugan, the lawyer representing the special counsel, will appear in Washington district court on May 24 at 10:30 a.m. for a status conference with Judge Emmet Sullivan.

The Hill viewed the relevant court filings, which are reported here for the first time.

Klayman filed the initial FOIA request with the special counsel, the Justice Department and the FBI on Jan. 2, arguing that the correspondences needed to be revealed because the special counsel's office was leaking to the media to bolster its criminal cases.

"This request is extremely urgent, as the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is currently ongoing, and there are new leaks emerging from his office nearly every single day, which is harming the reputation and livelihoods of a number of people that are under investigation and, as importantly, as well as the reputation, integrity and the public's trust of the justice system," the FOIA request reads.

Dugan, the special counsel's lawyer, responded in a filing last week that the defendants had completed their initial search and turned up 9,016 relevant pages at the special counsel's office, as well as 1,400 pages at the Justice Department and 337 at the FBI.

The agencies are reviewing the records for "applicable FOIA exemptions," Dugan wrote, and after that process the documents must be further reviewed by potential "equity holders."

Dugan proposed releasing the documents on a rolling basis beginning July 9 and "continuing periodically" until all of the nonexempt records have been released. He also said the special counsel would be willing to file a status report within 14 days of the first release and every 60 days after.

That proposal did not satisfy Klayman, who responded in a filing on Monday that "rolling production" beginning nearly two months from now is an effort to run out the clock until the end of the investigation.

"Defendants cleverly want to drag out and slow roll production of documents, which by any stretch of the imagination cannot be exempt under FOIA, as they concern communications with the media and are likely to reveal grand jury leaks and other improper disclosure of information by the special counsel in its Russian collusion and related investigations," he wrote.

"This rolling production will obviously result in 'dribbles' of benign documents being produced initially and then the rest stretched out over great time ... with the immense resources of the Defendants, full production can and should proceed quickly and be completed in one month at most, as the public has a right to know what has occurred with media leaks, which continue nearly every day."

Allegations of special counsel leaks also came up earlier this week after Mueller asked a federal judge to dismiss former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's request for a hearing on news media reports about his case.

Manafort had asked to bring witnesses to testify about alleged special counsel leaks. Mueller's team swatted the claim away, arguing that the sweeping probe had drawn in members of Congress, their staff, those who had received subpoenas and their defense lawyers, any of whom could be the source of leaks.

"Many of the matters reported, if accurate, would have been known to the defense, to witnesses who were interviewed or subpoenaed for documents, or to other investigators examining overlapping issues," prosecutors wrote. "The cited articles, in short, do not establish any factual basis for the inquiry that Manafort asks the Court to undertake."

Still, Sullivan has ruled favorably for Klayman on the issue in the past.

In 2002, Klayman's group Judicial Watch sought records pertaining to then-Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force. Sullivan ruled that the Bush administration must release the documents. The records remained secret for several years after as the Bush administration took their appeal to the Supreme Court.

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