The Justice Department will produce 500 pages of memos documenting what witnesses told special counsel Robert Mueller’s office and the FBI during their investigation next month.
The documents, known as 302s, memorialize interviews conducted by the office and form the backbone of much of the Mueller report.
CNN and BuzzFeed News had sued for the documents under the Freedom of Information Act, and on Tuesday, a federal judge in Washington, DC, ordered the Justice Department to produce their first tranche of documents by November 1.
The 500 pages could shed new light on what key government cooperators like former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House counsel Don McGahn told federal investigators, but represents only a fraction of the underlying interview records that Mueller’s office made: there were a total of 800 302 forms created by the special counsel’s office, potentially numbering some 44,000 pages, Justice Department attorney Courtney Enlow said at a hearing Tuesday morning.
Enlow said the FBI had already begun to process the records but said a host of potential exemptions that had to be considered before their release, including national security implications, certain privileges, and exposure to ongoing prosecutions and investigations.
“We have been going through 302s line by line,” Enlow said. “It’s a very intensive process.”
The future production schedule for the remaining interview forms, as well as other records requested by the news outlets, is a matter of contention.
Judge Reggie B. Walton lamented the Justice Department’s suggested rate of 500 pages per month – which Enlow said was routine for the FBI – calculating that it would take years for all of the 302s to reach the public.
Walton, a veteran of the bench first appointed by President George W. Bush, criticized the Trump administration for not providing ample resources to the government divisions working to comply with transparency requests, and ordered the Justice Department to determine what efforts the administration had made to keep up with an “explosion” of FOIA litigation.
Trump came into office as a “disruptor” and should have expected the volume of requests for internal documents that he’s been receiving, Walton said.
“Otherwise, they’re just totally thumbing their nose at the objective of FOIA,” he said. “The American public is going to become totally disillusioned.”
Walton said he hoped to issue a ruling on another transparency request aimed at Mueller’s office – for the release of an underacted version of the report – by next month, when another status hearing in the cases is scheduled.