Government lawyers have asked a judge to reject CNN’s requests to make public the memos of former FBI Director James Comey in which he details his meetings with President Donald Trump.
In a late Friday evening filing, the lawyers also have asked for permission to argue in secret why they say the disclosure could compromise the investigation into Russian election-meddling and potential obstruction of justice into that probe.
Several news outlets and government watchdogs, including CNN, have requested the documents be released under the Freedom of Information Act. Comey testified in Congress that the documents detail Trump’s request that he pledge personal loyalty and what he interpreted as a request to curtail an investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Despite Comey’s testimony that he wrote the memos specifically to avoid including classified information, the government argued it has now classified portions of the documents.
Releasing the memos, the government said, could “reveal the scope and focus of the investigation and thereby harm the investigation” and any prosecutions.
To prevent that harm, the government requested District Judge James E. Boasberg, who sits in Washington, DC, allow them to secretly make their case, citing an unnamed “FBI employee” who would testify only behind closed doors about why the Comey memos could not be disclosed.
“Publicly explaining in any greater detail why the release of the Comey Memos would be detrimental to the pending investigation would itself disclose law enforcement sensitive information that could interfere with the pending investigation,” the government wrote.
In a court filing earlier this year, CNN argued disclosure of the documents was in the public interest and required under the Freedom of Information Act. It requested the memos be released “unredacted, and without further delay.”
The existence of the memos was first disclosed when Comey asked a friend to provide the contents of one memo to The New York Times. The friend told CNN that the document contained no classification markings.
Comey had just been fired by Trump as FBI director, imperiling the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election that Comey had been leading. Comey told Congress he expected the disclosure would lead to a special counsel picking up the investigation.
Trump told NBC News he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation, claiming it “is a made-up story.”
Comey then publicly described the memos and meetings with Trump in testimony before Congress in June. In one meeting, according to the former FBI director, Trump asked others – including the attorney general – to leave so Trump and Comey could speak privately, and then asked Comey to “let this go,” referring to the Flynn investigation.
In another, the President invited Comey to dinner, which “turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room,” according to Comey’s Senate testimony. Comey said he was concerned that “the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job,” which “concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch” and his inquiry involving current and former Trump aides.
Comey said he turned over his copies of the memos to the special counsel.
The request for the documents landed in court back in June after the FBI did not respond to CNN’s FOIA request. Other watchdog groups and news organizations, including USA Today, Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, joined the lawsuit, and the government has repeatedly asked to delay the proceedings.