Mueller Seeks to Block Media Access to Sealed Documents

WASHINGTON (CN) – Special Counsel Robert Mueller asked a federal judge late Wednesday to deny several media organizations access to sealed documents related to the Russia probe.

In a 23-page filing in federal court in Washington, D.C.,  Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben, a member of Mueller’s team, argues the court should deny a request by the Associated Press, Cable News Network Inc., The New York Times, Politico and the Washington Post for a “broad unsealing” of search warrants, affidavits and other materials related to the Russia probe.

The documents the media groups also want access to include those records associated with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s activities.

Dreeben emphasized that the probe  is “not a closed matter but an ongoing criminal investigation with multiple lines of non-public inquiry.”

As a rule, search warrants typically remain sealed while investigations are ongoing.

That remains true even though “some aspects of the investigation have resulted in charges,” Dreeben said.

“The overall investigation is not complete and the search warrant materials relate to that ongoing investigation. In any event, substantial law enforcement interests would overcome any qualified First Amendment right of access,” the filing stated.

Criminal charges have been brought against 22 individuals and entities arising from Special Counsel’s investigation.

Search warrant materials could not be unsealed “without creating a serious risk of jeopardizing the ongoing and interconnected aspects of the investigation,” he warned.

The government does not object to unsealing some documents, however. Specifically, two warrants for Paul Manafort filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Manafort faces multiple bank and tax fraud charges in that jurisdiction and is expected to go to trial July 10.

Those warrants – also currently at the center of Manafort’s motions to suppress evidence – could be unsealed so long as they have the “appropriate redactions,” Dreeben said.

Some investigative information, including what was searched and recovered has already been revealed in earlier briefings.

At federal court in Washington, where Manafort also will stand trial this September, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Thursday ordered the two warrants Manafort wishes to suppress “with appropriate redactions” should be submitted to the court for in camera viewing by May 31. The records must also feature highlighted areas where defense believes redactions are necessary.

Any information not yet made to the public will likely be discussed in open court during suppression hearings, Dreeben noted.

Since the Manafort warrants were among the earliest warrants obtained in the investigation, “the government believes that it could practicably redact sensitive information and nonetheless leave unredacted certain information whose disclosure would not harm the ongoing investigation.”

Special Counsel will “take no position” on the news groups’ request to unveil sealed portions of transcripts from hearings on Feb. 7 and Feb. 14 with Manafort’s former business partner, Rick Gates.

Those transcript were likely sealed to “protect Gates’s and Manafort’s interests,” Dreeben noted, but since the government didn’t participate in those hearings substantially, Special Counsel has no opinion on the matter.

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