A federal judge in Washington on Thursday ordered the government to turn over for his review behind closed doors the so-called Comey memos, that various outlets are suing the Justice Department to release.
The DOJ has said releasing the memos would undermine the ongoing federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. It had previously asked the judge, James E. Boasberg, to review an affidavit from an FBI employee explaining why releasing the memos is an issue for the probe.
Boasberg said on Thursday that he would review that declaration, as well as “all withheld documents,” in camera — meaning within his chambers – and without the other side in the case seeing them. He gave the DOJ until Jan. 18 to turn the documents over.
CNN, USA Today, and other journalists, as well as the conservative group Judicial Watch, sued the Justice Department for allegedly violating the Freedom of Information Act in withholding the memos. The memos were written by former FBI Director James Comey and are accounts of meetings with Trump where Comey claims the President pressured him to drop his investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.
Trump fired Comey last May, and the existence of the memos became known first through press leaks and then through Comey’s dramatic testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The lawyers representing the outlets in the FOIA case cheered the judge’s move to review the memos, according to CNN.
“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,” Bradley Moss, who is representing USA Today in the case, told CNN.