A conservative watchdog group on Thursday sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) for failing to disclose the security costs of the special counsel team investigating the 2016 campaign activities of President Donald Trump.
Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., filed the lawsuit in its ongoing efforts to get records related to the security detail for special counsel Robert Mueller.
The Mueller team has been investigating the president over allegations that he or his associates colluded with Russian interests to sway the results of the presidential election of 2016.
“The Justice Department, the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller’s [team] continue to operate as if they are above the law,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement.
“The American people have a right to know how much taxpayer money is being thrown at Mueller’s massive investigation. Judicial Watch has never before seen this level of secrecy surrounding the operation of a special or independent counsel.”
Judicial Watch is arguing that it filed the lawsuit in response to the department’s failing to respond adequately to its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from March 19.
My @JudicialWatch on @WMALDC: The Mueller investigation isn’t about getting justice – it’s about getting President @realDonaldTrump… so I believe the President should either direct the Justice Department to shut it down or take independent legal action to shut it down. pic.twitter.com/u69iqLsWED
— Tom Fitton (@TomFitton) December 27, 2018
It filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The special counsel team has spent an estimated $25 million in total, according to USA Today.
Judicial Watch has been highly critical of the investigation for seemingly pursuing the president at all costs to “get him” on something. The watchdog has also pursued additional FOIA lawsuits related to the alleged surveillance, unmasking, and illegal leaking targeting.
Judicial Watch isn’t the only group to question the legitimacy and motives of the special counsel investigation. The House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, for instance, has scrutinized the special counsel’s probe as part of their joint investigation into the Department of Justice and FBI.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, more recently called for the special counsel team to be investigated for destruction of evidence. He accused the team on Thursday of destroying evidence. Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz found large gaps in the preservation of official government text messages between former FBI official Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page in a report on December 12.
“Mueller should be investigated for destruction of evidence for allowing those text messages from Strzok to be erased, messages that would show the state of mind and tactics of his lead anti-Trump FBI agent at the start of his probe,” Giuliani said in an interview with The Hill.
Strzok and Page exchanged thousands of text messages while they were involved romantically; their messages showed a clear disdain for the president. Strzok testified during two closed-door hearings that went late into the night back on June 27. He returned to face questions during his first public hearing on July 12. Page eventually appeared for questions during a closed-door hearing of her own on July 13.
Judicial Watch notes that this isn’t the first time the special counsel has been forced to disclose its operational costs. The DOJ had refused to release the proposed budget of the special counsel team, but later was forced to release those details after a separate lawsuit from the watchdog group filed in October 2017.
The special counsel team has taken down a handful of former associates of the president since launching its investigation in May 2017. But it has yet to connect the president himself to any collusion allegations.
Former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn became another early target on of the special counsel team. He resigned a short time into his term when information surfaced that seemingly showed he lied about having a meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Flynn has had his sentencing hearing delayed several times, most recently on December 18. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan suggested the delay based on charges Flynn made false statements to the FBI when he was supposed to be cooperating in a separate case involving illegal lobbying for Turkey.
His lawyers have insisted he has held nothing back.
Flynn initially resisted cooperating — but eventually he did after formalizing a deal with the special counsel to plead guilty in December 2017. The special counsel team eventually filed a memorandum recommending a lenient sentence, with the possibility of no prison time, on December 4.
Mueller stated in the filing that Flynn offered “substantial” help to investigators about “several ongoing investigations.”
Michael Cohen, a former attorney for the president, admitted to lying to lawmakers in federal court about how much he discussed his proposed business project in Moscow with the president as part of his own plea deal.
Trump responded by calling him “weak,” adding that he was only after a lighter sentence for his own crimes.
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