The Justice Department will not have to release memos written by former FBI Director James Comey about conversations he had with President Donald Trump, a federal judge ruled Friday.
CNN and several other news and advocacy organizations, including USA Today and the Daily Caller, sought the memos and related documents through the court system.
But Judge James Boasberg of the US District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit said the department and office of the special counsel Robert Muller do not have to turn over the documents at this time.
The ruling comes after an extraordinary effort from top members of Mueller’s team to intervene by sharing details with the judge about their ongoing investigation, even after the FBI had shown the judge the Comey memos.
“The Comey Memos, at least for now, will remain in the hands of the Special Counsel and not the public,” the judge’s opinion said.
Boasberg wrote that Comey’s testimony before Congress, in which he described the notes he took about conversations he had with Trump before he was fired in May, wasn’t enough to force the memo’s public release, nor were other acknowledgements Comey made of their existence.
The Justice Department had argued against the Comey memos’ release, saying that it would interfere with Mueller’s investigation.
The judge’s opinion Friday disclosed that Michael Dreeben, who serves as counsel to Mueller’s team, secretly testified to the court on specifics of Mueller’s ongoing investigation. So did an FBI agent, David Archey, a counterintelligence expert who took over for Peter Strzok in the investigation, in a written declaration. Archey submitted new information to the court about the investigation and this case as recently as Thursday.
Testimony like Dreeben’s, plus submitted information like Archey’s, pushes the amount of detail in this case far beyond what’s typical for a judge to review in a Freedom of Information Act request. Though what Dreeben and Archey told the judge was shielded from the public and from the news organizations suing the government, their statements about the Mueller investigation were recorded by the court and could be made public in future appeals.
“Having heard this, the Court is now fully convinced that disclosure ‘could reasonably be expected to interfere’ with that ongoing investigation,” the judge wrote.
Comey’s memos are being used by the special counsel’s office for its investigation, which looks for possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign as well as the possible obstruction of justice of an ongoing federal investigation.