Judge Denies Mueller Request for Protective Order

(CN) – A federal judge has denied Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s request for a protective order for materials gathered during discovery for the upcoming trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in Alexandria, Virginia.

In a two-page order entered Wednesday morning, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said Mueller’s request was “insufficiently specific in describing the information to be subject to the requested protective order, which is, in the circumstances, excessively broad.”

“To be sure, there may be good reason to apply a protective order to certain specific information in this case, but that information has not been adequately identified or described,” Ellis wrote. “Instead, the protective order simply refers vaguely to ‘other confidential materials’ that need to be  shielded from disclosure.”

Dismissing Mueller’s request as “anemic,” Ellis went on to say the “current proposed protective order throws an unnecessarily broad cloak of secrecy over documents and information to be disclosed in discovery. And this is so especially given that the indictment in this case charges defendant with engaging in conspiracies that begin as long ago as 2005 and ended in 2014.”

In circumstance where a conspiracy began and ended several years ago, there is no need to throw such a broad cloak of secrecy over the materials to be provided in discovery,” the judge added.

Ellis’s order was entered a day after Manafort asked the court to throw out the criminal charges Mueller has filed against him as part of the ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

In a 40-page filing in the federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, Manafort attorneys Kevin Downing and Thomas Zehnle claim Muller has been granted a “blank check” to take his investigation anywhere he sees fir, and that the Justice Department officials who granted him those powers exceeded the limits of their own authority.

Those claims are similar to arguments they’ve made in the federal court in Washington, D.C., to have charges filed against their client in that venue tossed as well.

Neither Ellis, or U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is presiding over the Washington case, have ruled on those motions.

Although Ellis rejected Mueller’s request, the judge said his order “does not foreclose the government seeking a more narrowly tailored and sharply focused protective order provided it is supported by good reasons. … In the meantime, counsel for the parties should proceed with alacrity to complete discovery, inasmuch as a trial date has been set and absent extraordinary circumstances, that trial date will not be continued.”

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