CNN is resorting to legal action to obtain documents used in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The cable news channel has seen a quarter of its viewers leave since the Mueller report was released which concluded there was no Russian Collusion among any of the 500 people interviewed and investigated. Releasing the unredacted report is against Justice Department laws which protect innocent witnesses who were questioned.
The cable news channel sued the FBI after the bureau allegedly failed to satisfy the broadcaster’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made in March for “FBI memoranda from any and all” of the witness interviews.
CNN’s FOIA request could potentially concern the FBI’s contested “section 302 reports,” in which agents recorded by hand the answers given by about 500 witnesses to Mueller and his team during the two-year probe that has cost taxpayers about $40 million, according to the White House.
The documents requested by CNN would also include some of the documents President Donald Trump authorized Attorney General William Barr to declassify on May 23—pending the cooperation of the intelligence community—that relate to any surveillance activities surrounding the campaigns in the 2016 presidential election.
Included in witness interviews being requested by CNN would be the details of what individuals such as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and former deputy Trump campaign chairman Richard Gates told investigators.
Cohen is already serving time in prison for lying to Congress, among other crimes including campaign finance violations.
Judge Royce Lamberth will preside at a district court in Washington to pass his judgment on the dispute.
Only a handful of Mueller’s memos—those linked to Flynn’s December 2016 conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak—have already been made public.
The Washington Post has separately asked a court to remove redactions in the memo concerning Flynn’s January 2017 FBI interview about his conversations with Kislyak, to which Flynn ultimately pleaded guilty to lying in after someone leaked the highly classified call to the media—a far more serious felony violation.
BuzzFeed News is also trying to obtain the “302 memos,” while the Electronic Privacy Information Center is separately seeking a broader trove of documents about the Russia probe.
Trump said on May 23 that now was the time to proceed with the declassification of surveillance documents because the special counsel investigation is over.
“Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last Presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions,” Trump posted to Twitter.
Trump’s announcement came after the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Attorney General William Barr for an unredacted version of the Mueller report, to which Barr declined after The White House asserted executive privilege over the report on May 8. Some of the redactions in the report legally cannot be lifted as they pertain to grand jury information, which is sealed under federal law.
Democrats on the committee then voted to recommend that the House of Representatives hold Barr in contempt for defying the subpoena. The full house will vote on whether to hold Barr in contempt on June 11.
CNN and Trump
The president has not been shy about his opinion of CNN’s reporting, most recently lamenting its relative influence overseas.
Trump wrote on Twitter on June 3 from London, “CNN is the primary source of news available from the U.S. After watching it for a short while, I turned it off.”
“All negative & so much Fake News, very bad for U.S. Big ratings drop,” he wrote, adding in a subsequent tweet, “It is so unfair with such bad, Fake News.”
Trump suggested disenchanted CNN viewers could stop using AT&T to force the TV company’s owner to enact changes at the openly anti-Trump network, whose ratings have been steadily declining.
“I believe that if people stopped using or subscribing to AT&T, they would be forced to make big changes at CNN, which is dying in the ratings anyway,” Trump wrote. “Why wouldn’t they act? When the world watches CNN, it gets a false picture of USA. Sad!”