AP, other media seek access to records in Mueller probe

FILE - In this June 21, 2017, file photo, special counsel Robert Mueller departs after a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Associated Press and other news organizations are asking a judge to unseal records in Mueller’s Russia investigation. The media coalition argued in a court filing on April 25, 2018, that Mueller’s probe is “one of the most consequential criminal investigations in our nation’s history” and that there’s overwhelming public interest in records from the case. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) –The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Associated Press and other news organizations asked a judge Wednesday to unseal records in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, citing overwhelming public interest in a case they said was among the most important in American history.

The news media coalition is asking specifically for transcripts of hearings in the ongoing prosecution of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as well as access to sealed search warrant applications filed by investigators.

Any interest in protecting the integrity of the probe, which is examining potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, is outweighed by the public’s right to the records and by public interest in “one of the most consequential criminal investigations in our nation’s history,” the media court filing states.

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“Under the common law, courts balance the public’s right to information about the workings of the criminal justice system against the legitimate countervailing interests of the government; here, that balance tips decisively in favor of the public,” the media organizations wrote.

Though Manafort’s court appearances have largely been open, the news organizations are seeking transcripts of portions of the hearings that occurred behind closed doors and out of public view. That includes a specific court hearing in which lawyers for Manafort’s co-defendant, Rick Gates, argued to withdraw from the case.

In addition, the news media organizations are asking for copies of applications and supporting affidavits for search warrants that have been executed in the case, including last year on Manafort’s home in Virginia and on a storage unit.

The public interest in those records could not be greater, said the media court filing.

“The Russia Investigation goes to the heart of the integrity of the political process, the potential corruption or other misconduct of the President of the United States and his closest advisers_or, as some of the President’s supporters have argued, a corrupt conspiracy by some in law enforcement to harm the President_and the ability of the justice system to fairly and effectively investigate and, where necessary, prosecute any of these potential crimes,” the lawyers wrote.

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So far, 19 people — including Manafort — and three companies have been charged in Mueller’s investigation. Three Trump aides from either the presidential campaign or the White House have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the investigation.

The other organizations in the coalition include The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and Politico.

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Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

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Read the court filing: http://apne.ws/0UQNdq0