US District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who will oversee the sentencing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Thursday weighed the possibility that special counsel Robert Muller’s office has been leaking grand jury secrets to the media.
Yet Sullivan was doubtful that has happened.
The right-leaning open government group Freedom Watch is asking the court to speed up a public records request it made in January for all communication between media outlets and the FBI, the Justice Department and its office of special counsel about the Russia probe.
Freedom Watch’s attorney Larry Klayman said he believes the records may reveal leaks to journalists that came from Robert Mueller’s office.
Klayman had asked to see all 9,000 pages of communication between the government and the media by July 9. But Sullivan, weighing both Klayman’s request and the efforts of the small staff at the special counsel’s office, pushed the Justice Department’s deadline back to September 4. Klayman said he will make the documents public once he receives them.
“This is a very important case. The public has a significant interest in not only this case, but the issues of what the government is doing with respect to the investigation,” Sullivan said at a hearing Thursday, noting that it was an election year.
“I don’t know. I may be somewhat cynical. My guess is that you’ll probably receive a lot of – hundreds of pages of documents that essentially say ‘no comment,’ but I may be shocked if that’s not the case,” he added.
The Justice Department lawyer, Joseph Dugan, said about 90% of 9,000 pages that the office will make public came from the special counsel’s office. The special counsel’s office would need to review the records before they’re shared with Freedom Watch, so the Justice Department can take out internal emails that wouldn’t fulfill the request and make redactions of private personal details, he said.
No one in the special counsel’s office is dedicated to reviewing 25 other Freedom of Information Act requests it has received, Dugan said, because all employees are working on “mission-critical” tasks and tackle the FOIA requests “in their spare time.”
Sullivan responded with a suggestion: “Possibly they should hire someone” to help with Mueller-related FOIAs, he told Dugan to tell Mueller’s team.
“I don’t have any interest in micromanaging investigations by the government, but I did take note of the fact that they didn’t have” someone dedicated to help complete the public’s records requests, the judge said. The office does have a dedicated spokesperson who responds to media inquiries.
The hearing included a few other exchanges with Sullivan that illuminated his thinking from the bench.
“Even if parties don’t prevail, they should take comfort in the fact that a judge should be impartial and make a decision,” he said, during some small talk with Klayman about the scales of justice on display in the courtroom. “That’s part of the oath.”