Judicial Watch today announced the Justice Department disclosed that it may soon provide the organization with additional, previously withheld material from the heavily redacted August 2 memorandum in which Rod Rosenstein granted broad authority to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, three months after Mueller’s appointment.
The initial appointment memo, controversially, was written in May 2017. The Justice Department’s notice to Judicial Watch came almost immediately after the explosive District Court hearing in which Judge T.S. Ellis III demanded the full memorandum be made available to the court in two weeks, by May 18.
In a May 4 response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, the agency revealed that it is now “processing the August 2 memo to determine if it can release additional portions that have not already been filed publicly.” The Justice Department had previously refused to acknowledge that any such “scope” documents exist.
Judicial Watch filed its FOIA lawsuit against the Justice Department on October 5, 2017, after the agency failed to respond to a July 10, 2017, request (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:17-cv-02079)). Judicial Watch is seeking:
- A copy of the budget prepared and submitted by Robert S. Mueller III or his staff in his capacity as appointed “Special Counsel to oversee the previously-confirmed FBI investigation of Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and related matters.” Temporal scope of this request is from 17 May 2017 to 10 July 2017.
- A copy of all guidance memoranda and communications by which the Justice Management Division will review the Special Counsel’s Office’s “Statement of Expenditures” prior to or for the purpose of making each public. Temporal scope of this request is from 1 June 2017 to present.
- A copy of each document scoping, regulating, or governing the Special Counsel’s Office appointed under the leadership of Mueller III. Temporal scope of this request is from 17 May 2017 to present.
A few hours after Judge Ellis’s explosive hearing, the Justice Department officially admitted to Judicial Watch that a scope memo existed:
As you are no doubt aware, in conjunction with its opposition to Paul Manafort’s motion to dismiss his criminal indictment, the United States filed on that criminal docket a redacted version of an August 2, 2017, Memorandum regarding ‘The scope of Investigation and Definition of Authority’ conferred on the Special Counsel….
In light of the Special Counsel’s public acknowledgement of the August 2 memo, the government has been assessing whether the acknowledgment alters its prior response to Request No. 3 [for documents describing the scope of Mueller’s authority] of the FOIA request at issue in this suit, and processing the August 2 memorandum to determine if it can release additional portions that have not already been filed publicly, but needs some additional time to complete these tasks.
“We are pleased, especially after Judge Ellis’s hearing, that our lawsuit is causing the Justice Department to rethink its cover-up of the ‘scope memo’ for Mueller,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Judicial Watch has never before seen this level of secrecy and cover-up surrounding the operation of a special or independent counsel.”
In the August 2 memorandum obtained by Judicial Watch, Rosenstein reiterated the broad authority he gave Mueller in his May order authorizing the special counsel:
[T]o conduct “the investigation confirmed my then-FBI Director James B. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on March 20, 2017, including: (1) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (2) any matters that arose or may arise directly from that investigation….”
The May 17, 2017 order was worded categorically in order to permit its public release without confirming specific investigations involving specific individuals. This memorandum provides a more specific description of your authority. The following allegations were within the scope of the Investigation at the time of your appointment and are within the scope of the Order…
The Justice Department then redacted all of the “following allegations.”
The August Rosenstein memorandum also included a section providing Mueller a “more specific description of your authority,” authorizing the special counsel to expand his prosecution of former Trump advisor Paul Manafort by investigating:
Allegations that Paul Manafort:
- Committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;
- Committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych…
The Justice Department then redacted additional material apparently detailing the “crime or crimes” relating to Ukraine that Mueller was authorized to investigate.
Judicial Watch is pursuing numerous additional FOIA lawsuits related to the surveillance, unmasking, and illegal leaking targeting President Trump and his associates during the FBI’s investigation of potential Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.