Trump allies zero in on Mueller ‘scope memo’
President Donald Trump’s allies are increasing pressure on the Justice Department to release a classified memo revealing the parameters of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling.
In the last week, top Trump defenders in the House called on the president to order Attorney General Jeff Sessions to transmit the document to Republicans in Congress. And House Majority Whip Steve Scalise scolded the DOJ for refusing to disclose the full memo, holding up a heavily redacted version on Fox News and calling it “ridiculous” that Congress hadn’t seen more of it.
Story Continued Below
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani told POLITICO that the so-called “scope memo” should at least be shared with the president’s legal team.
“The only document we want to see is the document to give Mueller his authority,” he said. “For a year, they haven’t shown to us.”
Trump allies say the move is motivated by a desire to bring transparency to an investigation hanging over the presidency, but Democrats call it a blatant political effort to undermine the Russia probe.
On Thursday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley added his voice, sending a seven-page letter to Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein, putting a chairman’s gavel behind the request for the first time. Grassley, however, emphasized that he intended to keep the document confidential.
The document could offer ammunition to Mueller’s critics who say he has strayed far from his original mandate to investigate Moscow’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and whether the Trump camp aided in those efforts. But the efforts have alarmed Democrats and legal experts, who say revealing sensitive information about an ongoing investigation could have far-reaching consequences that include alerting potential criminal targets to the crimes they’re suspected of committing.
“If I were the deputy attorney general, I’d risk a contempt citation,” said Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor. “I’d not turn that over. I’d draw the line in the sand.”
Peter Zeidenberg, a veteran white collar defense attorney, said he doesn’t accept the notion that those seeking the memo are “acting in good faith.”
“They’ll try and use this to further politicize an investigation that’s being supervised right now by a Republican Department of Justice,” he said. “They’re doing this to cause mischief. They’re doing this to try and condition the battlefield so they can fire Rosenstein and then Mueller.”
The attempt to obtain to memo is the latest front in a relentless effort by Trump defenders to bedevil Mueller’s ongoing probe. It’s included an intense campaign by some House Republicans to highlight alleged misconduct by senior officials in the FBI. Though House and Senate GOP leaders have said Mueller’s work should continue unimpeded, an increasingly loud faction of Trump allies has called for constraints on his work and have fiercely questioned the legitimacy of the probe.
Now, even lawmakers like Grassley — not a staunch Trump partisan — are pressing for disclosure. His call for the document is perhaps the likeliest to get results, given his perch atop the Judiciary Committee.
“[D]espite much pontification to the contrary, it is not true that the Department always withholds information about ongoing investigations or other proceedings from Congress, particularly its oversight committees — nor should it,” Grassley wrote.
For example, Grassley said former FBI Director James Comey briefed him and the committee’s top Democrat, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, on the ongoing Russia probe in March 2017.
“We used that information to conduct oversight in a responsible, nonpublic way for months, in order to preserve the integrity of the Executive Branch investigation,” he said. “We would certainly do so in this case as well.”
The scope memo itself is the subject of intense speculation. Rosenstein drafted it on Aug. 2, 2017 as a follow-up to his initial May 17, 2017 order appointing Mueller as special counsel, a week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Rosenstein has told Congress that he has worked closely with Mueller to ensure that the special counsel operates within the scope of his authority — and that he’s carefully approved any changes or amendments to those parameters. But critics complain that Mueller has been operating unchecked — and Trump regularly derides the investigation as a “witch hunt” aimed at weakening him.