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Here Are 17 Things BuzzFeed News Is Trying To Pry Loose About The Mueller Investigation

BuzzFeed News has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for a broad swath of records about the Mueller investigation — and is already fighting for some of them in court.

Posted on April 17, 2019, at 6:16 p.m. ET

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The release tomorrow of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report is a capstone for the two-year investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign and interference in the 2016 election by the Russian government.

But the report won’t tell the full story. For one thing, Attorney General William Barr is expected to make broad redactions to hide counterintelligence information, grand jury testimony, and ongoing investigations by other federal prosecutors. Barr has also said that he will withhold parts of the report to protect individuals’ privacy. Historically, federal government agencies have also used redactions to conceal politically embarrassing information.

Meanwhile, the report isn’t expected to reveal the internal workings of Mueller’s team of FBI agents and attorneys — what witnesses they questioned, what evidence they gathered, how they arrived at certain decisions, what influence, if any, the Justice Department and the White House wielded.

To answer those questions, BuzzFeed News has turned to a reliable tool: the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Since January, BuzzFeed News reporters have filed more than two dozen individual requests for documents related to the Mueller inquiry, and expect to take the additional step of fighting for their release in court.

On Tuesday, in response to the FOIA lawsuit to get Mueller’s full, unredacted report, US District Court Judge Reggie Walton gave the Justice Department until May 2 to explain whether Barr’s redactions go beyond typical FOIA law. Walton also said that the attorney general had “created an environment that has caused a significant part of the American public to be concerned about whether there will be full transparency.”

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With that in mind, here are the top 17 FOIA requests and what reporters hope to learn from them:

REQUEST 1: Mueller’s final report to the Justice Department

“A copy of the FINAL REPORT prepared by the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller relating to the Office’s investigation into: any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).”

WHAT IT MEANS: This is a straightforward request for the final report in its entirety — ideally with only limited redactions — processed in accordance with FOIA’s nine exemptions, along with an explanation about why certain details have been redacted. Taking the additional step of suing for the report allows BuzzFeed News to challenge the redactions in court.

REQUEST 2: The evidence Mueller’s team gathered

“Copies of any and all records, which includes but is not limited to FBI 302s, emails, memos, letters, charts, used by the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller during the drafting and preparation of its FINAL REPORT relating to the Office’s investigation into: any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).”

WHAT IT MEANS: Reporters are seeking any of the evidence gathered during Mueller’s two-year investigation, to understand how the office came to the decisions it did. These records would be far more extensive than what is contained in the report.

REQUEST 3: Thousands of subpoenas and search warrants

“Copies of the 2800 subpoenas issued/executed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller during his investigation into any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a). 2. Copies of the 500 search warrants issued/executed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller during his investigation into any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).”

WHAT IT MEANS: BuzzFeed News wants to learn what documents the Mueller team sought, which individuals it brought in for questioning, and what computers, devices, homes, and other locations it searched.

REQUEST 4: The FBI’s interviews with witnesses

“All FBI 302s maintained/stored/in possession of the FBI relating or referring to all of the individuals who were questioned and interviewed by FBI agents working for the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller during his investigation into: any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).”

WHAT IT MEANS: An FD-302 form is what agents use to summarize their interviews with witnesses. These documents could shed light on what individuals told the FBI and how that information was used by the Mueller team.

REQUEST 5: Correspondence from the White House about BuzzFeed News

“All records, which includes but is not limited to emails, memos, letters, from President Donald Trump’s legal team, any White House lawyer or representative of the President of the United States, mentioning or referring to the following news report published by BuzzFeed: President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project; all records mentioning or referring to the authors of the news report, Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier.

“Please be aware that President Donald Trump’s private attorney Rudy Giuliani stated to The New York Times, CNN and other cable news networks that lawyers representing the president sent a letter to the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to inquire about the BuzzFeed News story.”

WHAT IT MEANS: In January, BuzzFeed News published an article stating that Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, had told prosecutors that Trump directed him to give false testimony. In response, the special counsel’s office said that “specific statements” as well as “documents and testimony” were not accurate. The FOIA request seeks correspondence from the White House about that article and any discussions that led to the response.

REQUEST 6: How the special counsel communicated with the White House

“All records, same type as above, sent or received by the special counsel’s office and any individual using the eop.gov domain.”

WHAT IT MEANS: The request pertains to any communications between Mueller’s team and the Executive Office of the President about the Cohen story.

REQUEST 7: How the Justice Department discussed BuzzFeed News with Mueller

“All records from the Office of the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General, which includes but is not limited to emails, memos, letters, mentioning or referring to the following news report published by BuzzFeed: President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project; all records mentioning or referring to the authors of the news report, Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier.”

WHAT IT MEANS: BuzzFeed News wants to learn what communications former acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker or deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein had with Mueller’s team about the Cohen story.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

REQUEST 8: How the special counsel's office prepared its unprecedented statement

“All records, same type as above, memorializing discussions by the special counsel's office to issue a public statement about the BuzzFeed news report.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Reporters are seeking to learn how the special counsel’s office developed its statement about the Cohen story, who was involved in its crafting, and any discussions inside the team about the specific language it used.

REQUEST 9: What the Justice Department told the media

“All correspondence between the Justice Department Office of Public Affairs, same type as above, with other members of the news media mentioning or referring to the BuzzFeed News report.”

WHAT IT MEANS: This request seeks documents that could explain what the Justice Department told other news organizations about the Cohen story and how it attempted to shape their coverage of the matter. The Washington Post reported that the special counsel’s statement was meant to be a wholesale rebuke of BuzzFeed News — an interpretation that went well beyond the wording of the statement itself. Cohen’s lawyers later confirmed that Trump had “encouraged” and “instructed” him to lie by using “code words.”

REQUEST 10: Internal Justice Department communications

“Any and all emails, memos, letters, between Attorney General William Barr, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the Office of Legal Counsel mentioning or referring to Robert Mueller, the Mueller Report, Donald Trump, Trump, and obstruction.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Reporters hope to learn how Barr, Rosenstein, and others discussed the Mueller investigation at any point during the two-year inquiry.

REQUEST 11: Everything Mueller’s team produced

“All documents and records collected, maintained and stored by the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller since May 17, 2017 during the Office’s investigation into: any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).”

WHAT IT MEANS: BuzzFeed News is seeking every correspondence — every shred of paper or digital file — produced by Mueller and his team. This could help shed light on how agents and prosecutors interacted, who made decisions about the direction of the investigation, and how officials communicated during the past two years.

REQUEST 12: Barr’s talking points about the Mueller report

“I request disclosure from the Office of Public Affairs, the Office of Attorney General and the Office of Legislative Affairs, the following records:

“1. Any and all talking points prepared for Attorney General William Barr, DOJ's public relations staff, mentioning or referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report submitted to Mr. Barr on March 22, 2019.

“I request disclosure from the Office of Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, and the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller the following records:

“1. All email and letter correspondence to and from the Office of Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, Office of Legislative Affairs and any Congressional Offices, Congressional Committees or individual members of the House and Senate between March 22, 2019 and the date the search for responsive records is conducted relating or referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report into: any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).”

WHAT IT MEANS: This broad request may shed light on how Barr and others inside the Justice Department decided that the president would not be charged with obstruction of justice, and how those officials drew up a memo summarizing Mueller’s 400-page report in a matter of days.

REQUEST 13: Preparing the original Barr memo

“I request disclosure from the Department of Justice senior leadership/senior personnel in the Office of Attorney General, the Office of Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, the Office of Legal Policy, the Office of Legislative Affairs and the Office of Public Affairs the following records:

“1. Any and all emails that mentions or refers to Robert Mueller, the Mueller report, Donald Trump, President Trump, obstruction, collusion, Russia, William Barr, Attorney General Barr, Rod Rosenstein. The timeframe for this part of my request is March 20 through the date the search for responsive records is conducted.

“2. Any and all reports, letters, talking points, legal guidance, mentioning or referring to the handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report on any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and the classification of the report. The timeframe for this part of my request is March 15 through the date the search for responsive records is conducted.

“3. All records, which includes emails, memos, letters, directives, legal guidance relating or referring to Attorney General William Barr's March 24, 2019 four page summary of Robert Mueller's final report and any documents separate from the final Mueller report that Mr. Barr used to prepare his summary.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Again, this request could show how Barr and officials in other Justice Department offices communicated about the Mueller investigation, who was involved in those discussions, and how his four-page memo characterizing Mueller’s report was drafted.

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

REQUEST 14: A search for keywords

“I request disclosure from the Office of Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, Office of Public Affairs, the Office of Information Policy, the Office of Legal Counsel, the White House, and the Office of Special Counsel the following records:

“1. Any and all records, which includes but is not limited to letters, emails, memos, directives, text messages, calendars, exchanged between senior leadership in these offices that mentions or refers to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into:

“(A): Any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).

“(B): The following keywords: Mueller report, Mueller's report, Special Counsel Report on Russia interference, Trump and Witch Hunt, 13 Angry Democrats, Collusion, Obstruction, Donald Trump Jr., Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, James Comey, Andrew McCabe.

“2. Any and all records, which includes but is not limited to emails, memos, text messages and letters, memorializing discussions between Attorney General William Barr, Justice Department officials, Robert Mueller and any congressional committee or individual member of Congress, to release a public version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, discussions mentioning or referring to releasing a version of the report to Congress, discussions mentioning or referring to decisions to withhold information and certain details from the report, even from Congress.

“3. Any and all emails, letters, memos, reports, sent or received by any person in the Office of Special Counsel since May 17, 2017. The timeframe for part 1, which includes A and B is May 12, 2017 through the date the search for records is conducted. For part, the timeframe is March 22, 2019 through the date the search for responsive records is conducted.”

WHAT IT MEANS: This broad request may show how Justice Department officials communicated about key figures in the investigation, and what they told Congress about the release of the Mueller report. It also would shed light on how they responded, if at all, to Trump’s numerous tweets over the past two years, including disparaging comments about Mueller and his team of prosecutors such as “13 Angry Democrats.”

REQUEST 15: The Mueller team’s summaries

“I request disclosure from the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of Deputy Attorney General and the Office of Special Counsel the following records:

“1. Any and all summaries of the final Mueller report written/drafted by investigators/prosecutors/attorneys working on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.

“2. Any reports or documents that summarized Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report into any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump. These summaries could have been written by any individual working on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

“3. Any and all records, which includes but is not limited to emails, memos, letters, text messages, in possession of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General and the Office of Special Counsel, that mentions or refers to summaries.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Reporters want to gain access to the multiple summaries of the report written by investigators, as reported by the New York Times, which are said to have been far more damning than the brief summary of Mueller’s investigation that Barr wrote last month. Additionally, this request seeks Justice Department documents, such as emails, that mention or refer to those investigators’ summaries in an effort to find out whether officials discussed them.

REQUEST 16: Guidance on how to investigate the president

“I request disclosure from the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel the following records:

“1. All letters, emails, memos, reports, exchanged between The Office of Legal Counsel and the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which includes Mr. Mueller and/or any individual member of the special counsel's team of prosecutors and investigators.

“2. All letters, emails, memos, reports, exchanged between the Office of Legal Counsel, the Office of Attorney General, the Office of Deputy Attorney General and the Office of the Associate Attorney General, mentioning or referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia interference, obstruction, collusion, impeachment, and whether a president can be indicted and or charged with a crime while in office.

“The timeframe for this request is May 17, 2017 through the date the search for responsive records is conducted.”

WHAT IT MEANS: BuzzFeed News hopes to learn whether Mueller, his team, or anyone in the Justice Department sought guidance on how to handle the investigation. The request could provide clarity on Barr’s decision not to charge the president with obstruction of justice.

REQUEST 17: Whitaker’s role in the matter

“I request disclosure from the Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, the following records:

“1. All emails from the account of Matthew Whitaker, formerly Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and now the Acting Attorney General, that mentions or refers to Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, Russia. PLEASE be sure to include any correspondence from the EOP.gov domain.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Although Whitaker was acting attorney general for only a short time, reporters want to learn how he communicated with Mueller and the White House and whether he placed any pressure on the special counsel’s investigation.

  • Picture of Jason Leopold

    Jason Leopold is a senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He is a 2018 Pulitzer finalist for international reporting, recipient of the IRE 2016 FOI award and a 2016 Newseum Institute National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame inductee.

    Contact Jason Leopold at jason.leopold@buzzfeed.com.

    Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.

  • Picture of Anthony Cormier

    Anthony Cormier is an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. While working for the Tampa Bay Times, Cormier won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.

    Contact Anthony Cormier at anthony.cormier@buzzfeed.com.

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