Investigative Journalist & MIT/Harvard Researcher Sue FBI for Records on FBI’s Role in 2016 Election

WASHINGTON, DC — The FBI is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Investigative journalist Jason Leopold and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate/Harvard Klein Center for Internet & Society research affiliate, Ryan Shapiro, filed a lawsuit this morning against the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The suit is over the FBI’s failure to comply with Shapiro and Leopold’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records on the FBI’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

FBI
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
FBI

Jason Leopold is an award-winning Senior Investigative Reporter at Vice News, specializing in counterterrorism and human rights. Leopold has been called a “FOIA Terrorist” by federal employees for his aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act, which includes successfully suing the FBI to force changes to Bureau FOIA practices.

Ryan Shapiro, referred to by Politico as “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology”, is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) at MIT, as well as a Research Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Leopold and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light.

Six key elements of Shapiro and Leopold’s FOIA request and lawsuit:

  1. Leopold and Shapiro submitted a FOIA request to the FBI for records on a wide range of records pertaining to FBI operations involving the 2016 U.S. presidential election. This includes but is not limited to all records on:
  • The FBI’s investigations of Hillary Clinton’s email and private server.
  • The FBI’s investigations of the Clinton Foundation.
  • FBI Director Comey’s communications with Congress regarding the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email and private server.
  • Allegations of FBI violations of the Hatch Act in the course of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
  • Internal discontent at the FBI regarding the FBI’s Clinton investigations.
  • All leaks of information by the FBI to the press and political operatives about FBI investigations of Hillary Clinton.
  • All FBI communications with Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, Corey R. Lewandowski, Fox News, Bret Baier, Sean Hannity; and Rudy Giuliani.
  • Richard Spencer, the National Policy Institute, and the “alt-right”.
  1. Even as J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI coordinated much of the red-baiting of the McCarthy era, the Bureau staunchly maintained it was a purely apolitical entity. Current FBI Director James Comey also insists, notwithstanding the FBI’s previous transgressions, today’s Bureau truly is outside and above politics. 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. For example, both Senate Minority leader Harry Reid and former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski openly credit Director Comey and his FBI for Donald Trump’s electoral victory over Hillary Clinton. Even prior to the election, in late October, a piece in Politico opined that a string of recent FBI actions “give the lie to Comey’s repeated insistence that the FBI is above politics, exposing that notion as both irrelevant—[…] and absurd[.]”

Shapiro and Leopold’s 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.

  1. Due to the urgency of the matter, Leopold and Shapiro requested expedited processing of their FOIA request. The FBI failed to respond. This is a violation of the Freedom of Information Act.
  2. Not including this new lawsuit, Shapiro and Leopold already have two FOIA lawsuits against the FBI federal agencies for records on investigations involving Donald Trump.

In the first of these lawsuits, among other things, Shapiro and Leopold are suing the FBI and Secret Service for records on Donald Trump’s thinly-veiled assassination remarks regarding Hillary Clinton, and his less than veiled campaign trail call for Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton’s emails. The FBI unlawfully failed to respond to Shapiro and Leopold’s FOIA request, and then slow-walked an initial response to Shapiro and Leopold’s lawsuit until after the election.

Notably, the FBI’s response indicates the FBI might indeed be investigating Donald Trump for these incidents. However, in stark contrast to Director Comey’s pre-election rush to inform Congress that the FBI might re-open its investigation of Hillary Clinton, in this case the FBI dragged its feet to avoid revealing the same about Donald Trump until after the election.

  1. In the second of these lawsuits, Leopold and Shapiro are suing the FBI for all FBI records on the Trump Organization, the Trump Foundation, Trump Entertainment Resorts, and Trump University.
  2. Shapiro and Leopold’s lawsuit filed today is part of the work of Operation 45. Operation 45 is a new 501(c)(3) charitable organization founded by MIT/Harvard’s Shapiro, and attorney Jeffrey Light, to ensure transparency and accountability for the incoming Trump/Pence administration.

According to Shapiro

Regarding this lawsuit:

The purportedly “apolitical” FBI just played an unprecedented role in perhaps the most controversial and contested election in modern U.S. history. The public absolutely needs to know how and why the nation’s leading federal law enforcement agency came to play such a determinative role in American presidential politics.

Regarding Operation 45 (Of which this lawsuit is a part)

Given Trump’s authoritarian aspirations and overt contempt for the Constitution and a free press, American civil liberties and privacy now face a profoundly clear and present danger.

Trump must not be allowed to conduct his presidency from the shadows, and he must not be allowed to cripple the Freedom of Information act. The need is urgent for aggressive work to keep President Trump and his administration transparent and accountable.

Regarding FOIA more broadly:

Secrecy is a cancer on the body of democracy.

The democratic process cannot meaningfully function without an informed citizenry, and such a citizenry is impossible without broad public access to information about the operations of government.

The Freedom of Information Act is one of the most underappreciated elements of the entire American experiment. The notion that the records of government are the property of the people, and all we need to do to get them is to ask, is radically democratic. But FOIA is broken. Sadly, this is why we now need to sue to compel FBI compliance with federal law.

A complete copy of the complaint filed in court this morning can be viewed HERE

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To arrange an interview with Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro, please email or text Andy Stepanian at [email protected] or 631.291.3010.

You can follow Jason Leopold on twitter at @JasonLeopold and Ryan Shapiro on twitter at @_rshapiro