A federal judge Thursday said he would look at the memos former FBI Director James Comey wrote about his interactions with President Donald Trump before deciding whether the Justice Department can withhold them from the public. It’s a signal that the judge may be skeptical of Justice’s argument that the Comey memos should stay confidential because their release could compromise the Russia probe.
Judge James Boasberg of the US District Court for the District of Columbia said the government would need to give the memos to the court by January 18. They’ll stay secret during that process and won’t be seen by the other side in the case.
The court’s order is a significant move forward in the Freedom of Information Act case filed by CNN, USA Today, The Daily Caller and two non-profit conservative advocacy groups Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch.
“It’s rather heartening that Judge Boasberg has chosen to review the Comey memoranda himself, instead of just relying upon the descriptions in the agency affidavits. Given the significant public interest value inherent in these documents, the Government’s arguments against disclosure of them at all should be addressed with utmost caution,” said Bradley Moss, the attorney who represents USA Today in the case.
The Justice Department has argued the FBI shouldn’t release the memos because they’re part of a sensitive government investigation about the Trump campaign’s possible coordination with the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election.
Most Freedom of Information Act court cases don’t reach a point where the government shows a judge the documents it’s withholding, and instead get decided based on arguments and affidavits alone.
The Comey memos have received intense public interest since Comey discussed their existence during his Senate testimony last spring.
Trump fired Comey on May 9. Less than a month later, Comey revealed that he had written memos while still FBI director about meetings and conversations he had with Trump about the Russia investigation, which at that time the FBI led. Those conversations include a meeting where Trump asked other top advisers to leave the room before he asked Comey if he would “let this go,” referring to an ongoing investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to Comey’s testimony. (Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in the course of that investigation.)
Another conversation described in the memos, Comey said, included a one-on-one dinner invitation with Trump in the Green Room at the White House.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has since taken over the FBI’s investigation, and may be looking at whether Trump obstructed justice by putting pressure on Comey and by firing him.
Comey has said he turned over his copies of the memos to the special counsel.