VICE News is suing the FBI, demanding the bureau release records related to its curious disclosures, behind-the-scenes actions, and apparent leaks in the days leading up to the U.S. presidential election.
The wide-ranging Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was filed Tuesday morning in conjunction with Ryan Shapiro, a doctoral candidate at MIT and research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Earlier this month, VICE News and Shapiro filed more than 50 FOIA requests with the FBI seeking documents about the bureau’s discussions regarding Donald Trump, along with other documents that would shed light on the FBI’s decision a week before the election to tweet newly posted records from a long-dormant Twitter account about Bill Clinton’s 2000 pardon of financier Marc Rich.
The pardon, a controversial decision by the former president, was investigated at the time by current FBI director James Comey while he was U.S. attorney.
Our FOIA lawsuit notes that the FBI failed to respond to our requests for expedited processing. We argued that we urgently needed the documents to immediately inform the public. Among the FBI records we seek to compel the FBI to disclose:
• Allegations of the FBI violating the Hatch Act by allegedly using its authority to influence the course of the 2016 U.S. presidential election
• Internal discontent at the FBI regarding the bureau’s Hillary Clinton investigations
• All leaks of information by the FBI to the media and political operatives about FBI investigations of Clinton
• All FBI communications with Breitbart News; Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon, who Trump named his chief strategist and White House counselor after Bannon served as his campaign CEO; former Trump campaign manager Corey R. Lewandowski, Fox News, and Fox News hosts Bret Baier and Sean Hannity; former New York City mayor and Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani; and Republican strategist and Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone
• White nationalist Richard Spencer, his National Policy Institute, and the “alt-right.”
According to an Oct. 30 report in the Wall Street Journal, “Even as the probe of Mrs. Clinton’s email use wound down in July, internal disagreements within the bureau and the Justice Department surrounding the Clintons’ family philanthropy heated up.”
Our lawsuit “seeks public disclosure of specified government records to make sense of the pivotal role of the FBI, as well as of other agencies, in perhaps the most controversial presidential election in modern U.S. history,” says our complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by FOIA attorney Jeffrey Light.
“Despite subsequent disclosures of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, since its inception, the FBI staunchly maintained it was a purely apolitical entity,” the complaint notes. “However, numerous leading political and news media figures from across the political spectrum explicitly assert the FBI repeatedly and with significant impact affected the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.”
This is the fourth Trump-related FOIA lawsuit VICE News and Shapiro have filed since September. We sued the FBI, Secret Service, and IRS for information concerning a pair of incendiary comments Trump made on the campaign trail last summer — including one in which he called on Russia to track down 30,000 “missing” Clinton emails — as well as audits of Trump’s tax returns spanning more than a decade.
In November, we sued the FBI for documents about various Trump business entities, including Trump Entertainment Resorts, Inc.; the Trump Organization; Trump University; and the Trump Foundation, and any documents about their role in potential violations of federal law.
Two weeks ago, the FBI, in a letter disclosed to us 10 days after the election, revealed that the bureau may very well have been investigating Trump when Comey disclosed to Congress prior to the election that the agency had found additional emails that “appear to be pertinent” to its investigation of Clinton’s private email server.
“The nature of your request implicates investigative records the FBI may or may not compile pursuant to its broad criminal and national security investigative missions and functions,” the FBI letter said. “Accordingly, the FBI cannot confirm or deny the existence of any such records about your subject as the mere acknowledgment of such records existence or nonexistence would in and of itself trigger foreseeable harm to agency interests.”