Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team argued against the release of former FBI Director James Comey’s memos that contained notes he took during his infamous one-on-one meetings with President Trump.
A transcript of a January 2018 court hearing, released Tuesday on a court order, shows Mueller’s prosecutors were worried Trump and other witnesses might alter their stories depending on what they saw in the memos. In fact, Mueller’s team was seeking an interview with the president himself at the time.
The hearing was part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought on by CNN and other media organizations over access to the Comey memos, which were released in redacted form three months later in April.
“Special counsel is attempting to determine the facts that transpired in and surrounding those meetings,” Michael Dreeben, who had been a counsel for the Special Counsel’s Office, said at the hearing, according to CNN. “In any investigation of this kind, the recollections of one witness, if disclosed to another potential witness, have the potential to influencing, advertently or inadvertently, the recollections of that witness.”
Dreeben also mentioned the obstruction of justice investigation that was opened into the president before Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017.
“A witness who knows that a contemporaneous record was made of particular statements is aware that the reliability of that account is enhanced merely by virtue of the fact that it was recorded, and an individual who is seeking to shape or mold his own statements around those of others thereby acquires an advantage in doing so that he would not otherwise have,” Dreeben said. “The more that other witnesses are aware of the details of what is in the memoranda and is not in the memoranda, the greater the risk that they’re providing information that will assist the special counsel in completing the investigation and getting to the truth would be frustrated or impeded.”
Mueller’s team completed its Russia investigation in March, and a redacted version of the final 448-page report shows they interviewed a bevy of witnesses, including Trump administrations officials such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn and White House adviser Stephen Miller. Trump’s legal team resisted having Trump sit down for an interview with Mueller, and the president only answered questions in writing pertaining to alleged conspiracy, not obstruction. Mueller, unsatisfied with Trump’s level of cooperation, said in his report: “Ultimately, while we believed that we had the authority and legal justification to issue a grand jury subpoena to obtain the President’s testimony, we chose not to do so.”
Mueller could not find sufficient evidence of criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but did not clear Trump of obstruction of justice. Attorney General William Barr said he determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove an obstruction crime, but Democrats argue that Mueller’s report, which outlines 10 instances of possible obstruction, leaves it up to Congress to investigate and decide.
Upon the release of the redacted memos in April 2018, Trump lashed out on Twitter. “James Comey’s Memos are Classified, I did not Declassify them. They belong to our Government! Therefore, he broke the law! Additionally, he totally made up many of the things he said I said, and he is already a proven liar and leaker. Where are Memos on Clinton, Lynch & others?” the president said.
The memos included the notes that Comey said he leaked, which include Trump pressing him to the media to spark the appointment of a special counsel after he was fired as FBI director in May 2017. Mueller’s report said “substantial evidence corroborates Comey’s account” despite Trump’s denials.