MANHATTAN (CN) – A New York reporter has been exploring reporting over Ukraine-related lobbying from many dimensions, but a federal judge forestalled one of the avenues of his research on Monday, warning that journalistic scrutiny “could reveal the existence of law enforcement proceedings that are not officially acknowledged or publicly known.”
Much has changed since New York Times reporter Ken Vogel filed a Freedom of Information Act request in August 2017, seeking communications between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Ukrainian Party of Regions, the pro-Kremlin political party that paid former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort millions for lobbying work.
Unlike then, Manafort now stands convicted in two federal courts of money laundering, conspiring against the United States, violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act and other offenses. He is serving a 7.5-year sentence and now faces state-level charges in New York that could accrue more time.
Though Vogel’s attorneys claimed that the passage of time limited the need to protect an ongoing investigation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stewart Aaron found otherwise in a 27-page ruling issued Monday.
“Here, plaintiffs have not shown that information in the public domain is duplicative of the information they seek such that no harm would result from disclosure,” Aaron wrote.
Besides Manafort, requested records sought information about multiple people connected to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation like Manafort’s deputy Rick Gates and ex-White House national security adviser Michael Flynn. Both Gates and Flynn have had their sentencing postponed following their convictions.
For Judge Aaron, the near-conclusion of all of these cases did not end the matter.
“DOJ maintains that releasing the records reasonably is likely to cause interference with pending or prospective law enforcement proceedings,” he added, agreeing with the government’s claim that “that premature disclosure of the withheld records could reveal the existence of law enforcement proceedings that are not officially acknowledged or publicly known.”
The Times had argued that the government could release only those records related to investigations known to the public.
Rejecting that request, Aaron found that a savvy researcher could use one to learn about the other.
“Just because some investigations are publicly known does not mean that the release of documents related to those investigations are not likely to interfere with ongoing or pending law enforcement proceedings,” the ruling states.
David Schulz, who represented Vogel for Yale's Media Law Critic, and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment.
Other FOIA requests rejected in the ruling sought information about the secret Turkish foreign lobbying case involving Flynn Intel Group and Inovo BV, the Dutch shell company through which Flynn was paid. Former Trump transition team member Bijan Kian's trial for that alleged conspiracy entered into closing arguments today.
Another scuttled request tried to dig into the money laundering case of Prevezon, a Cyprus-based firm tied to the $230 million fraud unearthed by late whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, whose suspicious death in a Moscow prison where he was tortured sparked international efforts to punish human rights abuses in Russia.
The Kremlin retaliated against Magnitsky-related sanctions by restricting U.S. adoptions of Russian children.
Natalia Veselnitskaya, an attorney for Prevezon’s CEO Denis Katsyv, has been indicted in Manhattan federal court for alleged evidence tampering in that case. She was one of the key figures in the Trump Tower meeting with Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner in 2016.
Trump Jr. has said that Veselnitskaya raised the topic of “adoptions” during that meeting, where the Russians promised dirt on then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
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