A federal judge has ordered the Justice Department (DOJ) to address whether an even less redacted version of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will be released, following President Donald Trump’s recent tweets saying he had authorized the declassification of “any and all documents” relating to the investigation.
Trump wrote on Twitter on Oct. 6 that he had “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!”
His posts came hours after Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified a pair of documents detailing a U.S. intelligence intercept of a Russian intelligence product that claimed that Clinton had approved a plan on July 26, 2016, to smear Trump by linking his campaign to the alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee by Russians.
Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday asked the federal government to clarify its position on whether Trump’s Twitter post would equate to waiving exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act that had been applied to Mueller’s report in a case that is seeking an unredacted version of the report.
The plaintiffs in the case—BuzzFeed, its investigative journalist Jason Leopold, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a nonprofit research center—argued that the Twitter post amounts to a waiver of the exemptions. They asked the judge to order the DOJ 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,” the plaintiff’s lawyer Matthew Topic wrote, adding that the request is made on an emergency basis so that a less-redacted report could be released before the election. Topic also indicated that the DOJ did not agree with the request.
Walton ordered the DOJ to respond to the claim by Oct. 13 and to talk to the White House in order to ascertain the president’s official position regarding the declassification and release of documents relating to Mueller’s investigation.
The judge also scheduled a teleconference hearing for Oct. 16 to discuss the claims.
The DOJ did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment on the order.
Last week, the same judge had ordered the DOJ to release a less-redacted version of the report after he found that the department had failed to properly demonstrate the redacted information could be protected by a Freedom of Information Act exemption called the deliberative process privilege.
This exemption covers internal communications in the Executive Branch and is usually invoked to protect the decision-making process in federal agencies. One of the purposes of the deliberative process privilege is to “avoid chilling and distorting the candid discussion needed for optimum decisionmaking inside government agencies,” according to the DOJ.
The DOJ argued that the redacted information in the report was protected by the privilege because the information was related to “deliberations about charging decisions not to prosecute, which would reveal criminal charges considered but not pursued against certain named individuals under investigation.”
The judge previously had several complaints about Attorney General William Barr’s handling of the release of the Mueller report, saying that there were inconsistencies between the report and Barr’s summary of investigative findings he provided prior to the report’s release.
On Wednesday, Ratcliffe announced that he had handed over almost 1,000 pages of materials to the DOJ in response to a request by U.S. Attorney John Durham, the federal prosecutor investigating the conduct of the Russia inquiry by the FBI and other intelligence agencies.
Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.