Five news organizations have teamed up to file a joint motion to a Federal court to make public the Special Counsel’s materials used to obtain search warrants on Paul Manafort and others in the nearly year long Russia investigation, on the basis that the public has a right to know what the probe has uncovered.
From The Hill
The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, Politico and the Associated Press filed a joint motion on Tuesday asking a court to unseal affidavits, warrants and seizure records filed by Mueller’s team, the Post reported.
The motion argues that the sealed materials could contain information of public interest and provide details about the direction of Mueller’s investigation and the basis for FBI raids.
Many of the materials relevant to the case have remained sealed for longer than usual. Typically information – affidavits, seizure records, and search warrants – in cases such as these are released within a few weeks. Mueller’s team have kept documents under seal for months.
The request covers warrant material used in the investigation of former Trump foreign-policy advisor George Papadopoulos, Manafort associate Rick Gates, and 13 Russian nationals who worked for the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based company that allegedly plotted to undermine the 2016 election.
The media coalition argues in its motion that the government’s desire to keep the material under seal to protect an ongoing investigation is superseded by the public’s interest in, and right of access to, the Mueller materials.
Robert Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel last May and tasked with investigating links and/ or coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign in regards to the 2016 election. (To see the full scope of the Special Counsel’s task, click here.)
In the course of the investigation, several individuals associated with the Trump campaign have been indicted. Mike Flynn, Rick Gates, and George Papadapoulos plead guilty. Paul Manafort is facing 305 years in prison and will go to trial starting in July. In addition, 3 Russian companies and 13 Russian individuals have been indicted. The investigation continues and broadened as the President’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, has come to the attention of Federal investigators.
U.S. District Amy Berman Jackson, the trial judge overseeing Manafort’s criminal case, has called the Mueller probe “one of the most high-profile and complicated investigations” in history and has admonished parties to file fewer pleading under seal, citing public interest in the case.
“The fact that this case is of significant public interest is not a reason to seal things. It’s a reason to unseal things,” Jackson said at a Feb. 14 hearing over disputed bail terms for Manafort and an attempt by lawyers for his co-defendant, former aide Rick Gates, to withdraw from the case before he entered a plea deal.
But Jackson has also allowed both sides to file documents in private, withhold financial information and information about relatives, and information about ongoing investigations.
Jackson at the outset of the case also imposed a gag order to prevent pre-trial publicity from biasing potential jurors, which neither side opposed.
“This is a criminal trial, and it’s not a public relations campaign,” Jackson said after Manafort was indicted. “So I want to make it clear, from this point on, that I expect counsel to do their talking in this courtroom and in their pleadings, and not on the courthouse steps.”
Why It Matters
We all want to know what Mueller is up to – the nation waits anxiously for his findings. There is always a tug of war between the secrecy needed by investigators to complete an investigation and the duty of a free press to report information that is of public interest. Whether the public actually needs to know will be up to a judge in this case.