The United States Department of Justice has delayed responding to Freedom of Information Act requests of the report of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The DoJ appears to have done this as allowed by federal law on public information.
“We will need to extend the time limit to respond to your request beyond the 10 additional days provided by the statute,” reads a DoJ letter signed by DoJ Chief of Initial Request Staff Douglas Hibbard and addressed to me. A subsection of the law says that “if agency (dealing with a FOIA request) has determined that unusual circumstances apply … a failure … is excused for an additional 10 days.”
The request, reads the letter, fits the criteria of “unusual circumstances” as defined in another subsection of the law, 5 U.S.C. 552, which was assessed by me as it applies to the letter. Those circumstances, the DoJ says, are that the request “requires a search in another office, consultations with other department components or another agency, and/or involves a voluminous amount of material.”
The report was the result of an investigation led by Mueller that concerned Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election and if U.S. President Donald Trump sought to obstruct justice. The “basic function of the Freedom of Information Act is to ensure informed citizens, vital to the functioning of a democratic society,” according to the same DoJ.
The Mueller report is reportedly nearly 400 pages.
The DoJ is “processing other requests seeking records similar to those you have requested,” the DoJ wrote in the letter.
The letter appears to be a form letter sent to at least one other media outlet, the San Francisco Public Press.
“At this time we have assigned your request to the complex track,” the letter reads. A subsection of the law says that “each agency (dealing with a FOIA request) shall … provide to each person making a request the tracking number assigned to the request.”
“We use multiple tracks to process requests,” the letter reads. “The time needed to complete our work on your request will necessarily depend on a variety of factors, including the complexity of our records search, the volume and complexity of any material located, and the order of receipt of your request.”
I sent the request on March 25 and got its letter April 2. Press Senior Editor Michael Winter sent his request on March 22, he wrote, and got his letter April 4.
Regarding a possible cost of the report, “Any decision with regard to the application of fees will be made only after we determine whether fees will be implicated for this request,” the letter read.
The DoJ is led by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who provided a four-page letter summary of the report on March 24 to congressional committee leaders.
Along with mine and the Press’, the DOJ has granted processing of other requests “on an expedited basis.” The DOJ is granting the expedition at least for me and the Press’ because of the other requests for “similar” documents, the letter read. A subsection of the law says that “each agency (dealing with a FOIA request) shall promulgate regulations … providing for expedited processing of requests for records.”