WASHINGTON - Prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller's team on Tuesday cited the "press of other work" in asking a judge to give them until April 1 to respond to the court about a request from The Washington Post to unseal records in Paul Manafort's criminal case.
In a two-page filing, Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben and prosecutor Adam Jed wrote, "Counsel responsible for preparing the response face the press of other work and require additional time to consult within the government."
A response was to be due Thursday. The filing did not detail the nature of the consultation.
The Post has objected to the abundance of sealed and redacted records in Manafort's Washington case and petitioned the judge in his case, Amy Berman Jackson, to open them to public view.
The news outlet's motion, filed on the eve of Manafort's recent sentencings in the District of Columbia and Virginia, cited "the profound public interest in these proceedings," arguing that the integrity of the country's elections "goes to the core of the interests protected by the First Amendment."
The special-counsel filing seeking the extension comes amid several public signs that the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is winding down and amid heightened speculation that Mueller could any day transmit his final report to Attorney General William Barr.
Mueller's team, once filled with 17 lawyers, will soon be down to 10. The special counsel's office confirmed in recent days that Zainab Ahmad's detail has ended, and Andrew Weissmann will soon be leaving for the private sector. No one has been charged by the special counsel since longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone was indicted in January for allegedly lying to Congress.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, have been taking steps to urge the Justice Department to make Mueller's findings public, although it is unclear whether and to what extent that will happen. The House last week voted overwhelmingly to urge the Justice Department to publicly release Mueller's entire report, with 420 Democrats and Republicans supporting the measure and not a single person voting no.
The special-counsel regulations do not require Barr to release Mueller's report, and in most circumstances the Justice Department does not make public information about those it investigates and does not charge. But the political pressure on the attorney general is expected to be enormous, and legal analysts say the Justice Department might be hard-pressed to resist lawmakers' demands for transparency.
Barr has vowed to be as open as possible while also noting that department policies generally do not support his telling all.
Manafort, 69, was sentenced to a combined 7 1/2 years in prison earlier this month after being convicted in August at trial in Alexandria on bank- and tax-fraud charges and pleading guilty in September in Washington to two conspiracy counts of hiding millions of dollars he earned as an unregistered lobbyist for Ukrainian politicians over a decade and attempting to tamper with witnesses.
The Post asked Jackson to unseal or unredact records after giving the government 10 days to respond, specifying filings, sentencing memos, hearing transcripts and more than 800 pages of exhibits submitted after the special counsel’s office alleged in November that Manafort voided his cooperation agreement by lying to prosecutors.
Prosecutors at the time said the materials were sealed or blacked out to shield the privacy of uncharged individuals and because of a need to keep secret ongoing criminal investigations, including grand-jury matters.
The Post has asked that Jackson require prosecutors to notify the court within seven days once any related pending investigation ends to consider further unsealing of materials, and that prosecutors tell the court every four weeks their justifications for continuing to keep remaining material sealed.
Prosecutors in their filing said attorneys for The Post did not oppose the request for an extension beyond the original March 21 deadline. The Post's attorney, Laura Handman of the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm, said the government's filing spoke for itself.