A D.C. federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Justice Department to release four unredacted pages of the Mueller report that describe who was investigated, but not charged in the special counsel’s probe into alleged Trump-Russia campaign collusion.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found in favor of BuzzFeed and reversed a lower court’s decision to withhold the pages from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that ultimately did not reveal sufficient evidence to charge former President Donald Trump with a crime.
The news outlet claims the pages have information on why an unnamed person, likely Donald Trump Jr., was not prosecuted for potential campaign finance violations. It also says the pages have details on people who were investigated, but not charged for making false statements, as well as insight into decisions that “appear” to relate to contacts between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.
“We determine after our own in camera review of the report that these passages show only how the government reached its declination decisions and do not contain new facts or stigmatizing material,” the 18-page opinion states.
Because the four redacted pages only have information that has already been made public in the report, the court wrote that the disclosure will not cause any “additional reputational or stigmatizing harm.”
“Disclosure would also show how the special counsel interpreted the relevant law and applied it to already public facts in reaching his declination decisions,” the opinion states.
The court also rejected the Justice Department’s argument that most of the report has already been disclosed and that Congress has released a substantial amount of information on the investigation.
“Those statements, in and of themselves, may be true but they are irrelevant to the fact that the special counsel’s legal analysis that led to the declination decisions has not been released and likely would ‘contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government,’” the opinion states.
The court, however, did deny BuzzFeed’s request for additional parts of the report to be made public that the news outlet says likely contain information on the decision not to charge Trump campaign officials with foreign agent offenses.
According to the ruling, those “sections include new facts that would be stigmatizing” to people who have not yet been publicly identified.
“Of the individuals whose privacy interests may be jeopardized by disclosure of the requested information, only one is a public official. The remaining individuals are private citizens who served on a presidential campaign,” the opinion states.
BuzzFeed News Editor in Chief Mark Schoofs applauded the ruling in a statement.
“This is a huge legal victory both for BuzzFeed and champions of government transparency and the use of FOIA law both in our nation’s capital and across the country,” Mr. Schoofs said.
The Justice Department declined to comment.