What Russia declassification looks like when bureaucrats get involved: a big black blob

One day after promise of no redactions, DOJ and NSC turn over a mostly blacked-out memo from Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

Updated: October 9, 2020 - 3:24pm

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Back in 2019 and again this week, President Trump explicitly ordered federal agencies under his authority to declassify all documents from the discredited Russia collusion probe. "No redactions!" he demanded Tuesday night.

One day after that latest order, Trump's Justice Department released under the Freedom of Information Act a National Security Council email written by an analyst named Eric A. Ciaramella that was referenced in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report. The memo was declassified back in March. But it isn't really disclosed.

All but these three words of what Ciaramella wrote NSC strategic communications aide William R. Kelly on May 10, 2017 were blacked out: "Here you go:" 

NSC, FBI and DOJ officials cited a variety excuses — including a potential claim of executive privilege — for why they couldn't release the contents. Remarkably, the version released Wednesday contains even less information than what Mueller's report provided about the email's contents a year ago. Fifteen of the redactions were requested by the NSC and two by the FBI.

You can view the memo here:

The lack of transparency was not lost on the Southeastern Legal Foundation, the public interest law firm that filed the FOIA request and received the response on Wednesday. The foundation represents Just the News on several of its FOIA lawsuits.

"SLF was very disappointed, but not surprised, that certain members of the intelligence community are ignoring President Trump's declassification and production orders," said Kimberly Hermann, the foundation's general counsel. "The documents produced to SLF today are completely blacked out so that they hide both the truth behind the Russia-collusion hoax and behind Eric Ciaramella's involvement."

Spokespersons for the NSC and Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

In all likelihood, the redactions on the memo were made before Trump's latest order. But they demonstrate just how difficult it is for public information advocates like the Southeastern Legal Foundation to get any transparency for the American public.

The Ciaramella email has been of interest to congressional investigators and others in the investigation of the Russia investigators because it was sent a few days before a news media leak claiming that President Trump had told Russian diplomats he had fired James Comey, and called the FBI director a "nut job."

Ciaramella's email was cited by name in a footnote in volume II of the Mueller report, attached to this claim in the report. "In the morning on May 10, 2017, President Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office," the report said, citing Ciaramella's email.

The attached footnote suggested Ciaramella's email involved the following information: "The meeting had been planned on May 2, 2017, during a telephone call between the President and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the meeting date was confirmed on May 5, 2017, the same day the President dictated ideas for the Corney termination letter to Stephen Miller."

The email's contents would likely show what Ciaramella conveyed to his NSC colleagues about those events, and what his interest was in the Russia meeting.

Ciaramella has been identified in documents released in the subsequent Ukraine impeachment scandal as a CIA analyst on loan to the NSC and specializing in Ukraine, Russia's neighbor.

Real Clear Investigations has reported that Ciaramella was the official who later filed an intelligence community complaint that prompted the impeachment proceedings involving a presidential conversation with Ukraine. Officials have never formally confirmed that information, however.

Whatever the case, the blacked-out materials in the currently released version of the email could help the American people better understand what made the memo important enough for Mueller's team to mention. But only if the redactions get lifted.

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