A new batch of interview summaries from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election was released on Tuesday in response to Freedom of Information Act lawsuits by BuzzFeed News and CNN.
The documents, known as FBI 302s, reveal what Trump administration and campaign officials, as well as other people close to the president, told federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors about issues relating to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential attempts by President Donald Trump to obstruct the probe.
The final 448-page Mueller report, released in April 2019, was the most hotly anticipated prosecutorial document in a generation. But it reflected only a tiny fraction of the primary-source documents that Mueller’s team had amassed over the course of its two-year probe; much of the content of the hundreds of interviews taken by the special counsel’s office has never before been reviewed publicly.
For example, interview summaries released late last year showed that Paul Manafort was still advising the Trump campaign three days before Election Day in 2016 – despite having been fired as campaign manager nearly three months earlier. That fact, wrote Trump’s next campaign manager, Steve Bannon, in an email, needed to be kept secret or “they are going to try to say the Russians worked with wiki leaks to give this victory to us.”
In May 2019, BuzzFeed News sued the FBI and the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act seeking access to the thousands of pages of interview summaries of the witnesses who spoke to FBI agents and prosecutors. That litigation was subsequently joined by CNN.
In October, a federal judge ordered the release of the documents, and the two agencies began releasing 302s last November. Under the court order, records must be disclosed every month; to date, the government has produced in excess of 2,000 pages of summaries from interviews with more than 500 witnesses who spoke to Mueller’s team during the course of the investigation.
The vast majority of the 302s have been heavily redacted, leaving vast swaths of information about what witnesses told investigators obscured from view. BuzzFeed News has challenged some of those redactions, arguing in court that one category of exemption that the government has cited to justify the withholdings was legally unfounded, politically motivated, and implemented solely to protect the president.
Although the Mueller investigation led to 37 indictments and seven convictions, Trump has aggressively sought to discredit it, repeatedly referring to it as a “witch hunt.” His efforts have been supported by Attorney General Bill Barr, who has been accused of intentionally misrepresenting Mueller’s findings and who has taken the highly unusual step of intervening in several cases related to the investigation, including the prosecutions of former national security adviser Michael Flynn and political consultant Roger Stone. Last year, Barr also tapped a US attorney in Connecticut, John Durham, to investigate the origins of the Russia probe.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates and follow BuzzFeed News on Twitter.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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 email@example.com.