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Exclusive: DoJ letter shows scope of Mueller evidence collection

Part Two of an exclusive look at previously unreported documents

The Rachel Maddow Show has obtained exclusively a collection of previously unreported documents. Among them are handwritten notes, now confirmed by The Washington Post as having been taken by then acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente, recording his conversation with James Comey about Comey's interactions with Donald Trump.

The collection of documents also includes a letter in which Boente informs the Department of Justice that he has been asked to give testimony to Robert Mueller's investigation, and another letter declaring that Boente's notes on his talks with Comey are not Top Secret.

Rachel Maddow reported additionally on Wednesday on another letter obtained exclusively by TRMS. The letter, from Scott Schools, the top career official at the Justice Department, informs other top DoJ officials that they've been asked to preserve any "Documents and Responsive Materials" related to Donald Trump's firing of James Comey or the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia's intrusion in the 2016 election.

Below is a rush transcript of Maddow's reporting on that document:


OK, so last night, we broke a little bit off news about the Russia investigation and the Justice Department and the FBI. Specifically, we obtained some new documents that allowed us to break two new pieces of news. First, is that we got some handwritten notes from a law enforcement official named Dana Boente. And those handwritten notes appear to corroborate - even down to some of the exact phrases - what FBI Director James Comey told Congress about his interactions with the President Trump before the president fired Comey last May.

Comey told Congress, for example, that President Trump had asked him to "lift the cloud" of the Russia investigation. Boente's notes that we obtained appear to show Comey describing that to Boente in exactly the same way when he phoned Boente right after he had spoken to the President, in order to make sure there would be a record of what the President had said and done.

So that’s one example: Comey telling Congress the president said he wanted to "lift the cloud" and then him telling Boente the same thing, that that the president said he wanted to lift the cloud.

Comey also told Congress that the President had said to him that this Russia business was interfering in his ability to run the country as president. These notes we obtained appear to show that Comey told Dana Boente the exact same thing. Comey also told Congress that the president had asked him to make up a public statement that the president wasn’t personally being investigated by the FBI. Comey appears to have recounted that same presidential request -- the same way -- to Dana Boente.

Comey also told Congress that that he – that James Comey -- had asked the Attorney General to make sure the president never again spoke to him alone, one on one, about matters like this. Comey conveyed the same description of that same conversation to Dana Boente and from these notes we got it appears he used almost the exact same word-for-word language.

So the reason all of that matters, the reason those matching phrases, those matching descriptions of those conversations, the reason that’s important is because the President is potentially in legal jeopardy for firing James Comey if that firing was an effort by the president to obstruct justice.

Now, how do prosecutors determine if an action like that was an effort to obstruct justice? They look at why it was done. And so all these pre-firing conversations and interactions between James Comey and the President they may end up being part of any legal case against the president if those interactions show what the president thought of Comey, what he wanted from Comey, what might’ve motivated him to fire James Comey.

That's why Comey testified about those interactions with the president in detail, under oath to Congress last year. Honestly, that's also why there's so much anticipation about Comey's book coming out next week. What happened between Comey and the president before the president fired him is really important to the question of whether the president might be criminally charged or otherwise liable for obstruction of justice in this instance. And the president of course disputes Comey's account of those interactions. He has repeatedly denounced James Comey as a liar. He has directly denied Comey's descriptions of his interactions with the president.

Comey's defense against that is that, well, there might not have been tape recordings of his interactions with the president, but he has basically the next best thing: he said that he has copious notes, taken at the time by himself, but also by other senior law enforcement officials who Comey briefed at the time, immediately following these interactions he had with the President. Multiple senior law enforcement officials who incidentally are trained to take detailed notes for just this kind of reason. For evidence.

So, these handwritten notes from Dana Boente which we obtained, these are the first time that we the public have ever seen any of those contemporaneous notes. And they do appear to back up Comey's version of what happened between him and the president. Sometimes word for word.

So that was the first big piece of news we were able to break. The other big piece of news was that we also obtained this letter in which Dana Boente explains to the Justice Department that he has been asked to sit for an interview with Mueller's prosecutors.

And Dana Boente of course is not just any other witness for this investigation. As U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, Dana Boente personally signed off on subpoenas and otherwise led the initial grand jury investigations into Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn and Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. When Dana Boente was acting attorney general and acting deputy attorney general, he actually served stints overseeing the whole Russia investigation -- all of it.

When he was acting chief of the National Security Division at the Justice Department, Boente personally approved some of the most serious criminal charges that were brought against Manafort. Mueller asking Dana Boente to come in as a witness is not just a run of the mill turn in the investigation, he is not a normal witness. But we were able to report last night that Boente has been asked by Mueller to come in and do an interview.

Well then today, Matt Zapotosky at the Washington Post was able to push this further, because Zapotosky today confirmed that not only has Mueller asked Dana Boente to testify, the interview has in fact taken place. Zapotosky was also able to separately confirm the authenticity of these handwritten notes we reported on. According to the Washington Post they are Dana Boente's handwritten notes and he was able to confirm that these handwritten notes from Dana Boente have been handed over to the Mueller investigation.

Now, I mentioned last night that in addition to those couple of pieces of news we were able to get last night we might have more to report in coming days. Well hello, it’s coming days and here's something new that we can report tonight. And this one I think we can actually put right up there on the whole screen, the whole thing. Can we put it up, can we have it there? Yes , there we go. And we’ve only done a couple of little redactions here, we’ve redacted, mostly basically just email addresses from people here because we don't need to be publicizing their email addresses.

"From Scott Schools" ...Scott Schools is the top career official at the Justice Department.

Date: Friday morning, May 26, 2017.

And then the “To:” field there you see is to a long and interesting list of people at the Department of Justice -- you can stick a pin in that list , we’ll come back to that distribution list in just a second.

The subject line says: "Preservation notice."

And then the letter from Scott Schools to his colleagues at DoJ it says this: "All:”-- as in dear All -- "We have received requests that we identify and preserve any documents related to the removal of former FBI Director Comey and any documents related to the investigation of Russian activities to interfere with the 2016 election.”

"The 'Documents and Responsive Materials covered by the request include but are not limited to" -- I love this -- "both in draft and final form, all emails, voicemails, documents, photos, text messages, instant messages, electronic handwritten and/or hard copy records, databases, telephone records, correspondence, transcripts, audio recordings, analyses, briefings, assessments, banner entries, user agreements, audit records, metadata, storage devices, notes, memoranda, diary and calorie entries, excuse me, calorie entries, calendar entries, visitor logs, meeting attendance records, meeting room reservations, meeting agendas, badge records records of entry or exit to any building, room or security facility, safe access records, video surveillance of public and non-public areas, and access logs, including of classified information."

Also smoke signals, if you have any of those, any removed tattoos you’d like to submit for laser analysis, x-rays from that time you broke your thumb at the company softball game. Also, your children’s report cards dating back to birth and their sonograms. Like, this is serious, right? They are going to need it all: Preservation notice.

It ends by saying, "To the extent any of you or your staffs have relevant documents, please identify and preserve them, so we can then evaluate whether and how to provide them to the requesters.”

Now, the requesters we can surmise are probably the Special Counsel's office, Robert Mueller and his prosecutors, because the date on this thing, May 26th, that's nine days after Mueller was named as Special Counsel. This means less than a week and a half after taking over the Russia investigation, Mueller and his team demanded all of this stuff from all these people at the Justice Department. Now, go back to the distribution list. Jody Hunt is on the distribution list - at the time, chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sarah Isgur Flores, the main spokesperson for the Justice Department both then and now. Sam Ramer, at the time he was the head of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the Justice Department, which meant he was in charge of managing the relationship between the Justice Department and Congress. Mr. Ramer has since gone on, I believe, to work in the White House Counsel's Office. James Rybicki, who had been chief of staff at the FBI under Comey. He was another one of the people Comey reportedly briefed on his interactions with the president. Rybicki ended up leaving the Bureau earlier this year. Sort of pushed out, apparently, in January. James Crowell, we believe, is somebody who was working in the deputy attorney general’s office-- in the Rod Rosenstein office-- at the time this was sent.

And of course, also on the list: Dana Boente, whose copy of the memo this appears to be. Boente, apparently, was included on this list both in his capacity as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and in his capacity running the National Security Division at the Justice Department at the time. And I think, actually, this is Dana Boente's marginalia there, saying something about him bringing his notes on this matter in to Scott Schools even before this memo went out.

So, this document has never previously been reported. Part of what's important here is that all of this stuff that all of these top people at the Justice Department are now supposed to find and preserve and hand over to Mueller, all of this stuff has to do not just with the Russia investigation, which has already been underway but they're being directed here that they’re also supposed to turn over all this stuff about what was then a brand spanking new investigation into the President firing FBI director James Comey.

This memo went out on May 26th. Comey was only fired a couple of weeks before then. So this memo goes out May 26th to all these people at Justice, telling them to hand over all this stuff about Russia and about the firing of Comey. This is nine days after Mueller was named special counsel, and this is new. This is previously unreported. This shows the scale of the request for documents and communications even within the Justice Department for people who may have ended up being witnesses to a potential crime that took place within the administration when the president fired his FBI director for reasons that remain in dispute and under criminal investigation.

It gives you a sense of the massive amount of stuff that Mueller and his team are hunting through in this investigation. Not incidentally, this previously unreported retention notice that we have just broken here tonight, this also shows you the massive amount of stuff that has been collected by this investigation that will need to be preserved and protected somehow as evidence if, in fact, the president ends up coming for the Special Counsel’s office.